“Shocking” Report Says NHS Procurement Not Fit For Purpose

In short

Over the last few months a panel of senior private, public and voluntary sector executives convened three times to discuss how all sectors can find better ways to work in partnership. Now the panel, comprising senior figures from the NHS, private sector, industry and consultancy have said the NHS procurement system is “not fit for purpose”.

The Sodexo-funded report can be found here and makes fascinating reading.


The report, ‘Partnerships for healthy outcomes’, was drawn up by a panel chaired by former NHS Appointments Commission chair Sir William Wells.

It’s a pretty depressing read for anyone who has been involved in trying to improve NHS procurement practices, especially over the last ten years. In its summary findings for example the very first point states that the current system is “unwieldy and in need of reform”.

NHS not good at partnering, not transparent, not outcome focused

The report goes on to argue that too few NHS services are delivered in partnership with private or voluntary sector organisation, such potential partnerships having been held back by both a lack of trust, and a lack of knowledge.

In fact the summary document returns time and again to partnerships with external agencies, making it pretty clear that it believes the NHS is institutionally resistant, and advocating that this should change.

It also recommended that contracts should be made more transparent, both to highlight successes and reduce public suspicion of outsourcing. Interestingly however it argued that the private sector must adapt to the NHS agenda, history and culture and modify ways of working to accommodate this.

“Quelle surprise”

Sir William Wells also pointed to the excessive time it takes to finalise contracts in the NHS: “The average length of procurement in the UK is 18 months,” he said. “In France and Germany, it’s six to eight weeks.”

“Low cost does not necessarily mean high value”

In probably the most breathtaking, but obviously necessary statement of “Janet and John” procurement basics the summary feels the need to make the above statement. It’s a fair observation, and one that is probably met every single day by every single company dealing with the NHS. And it’s another example of how the institution needs to start acting strategically and with a bit of joined-up procurement thinking if its ever going to approach anything that could be called efficiency

It’s a fascinating read, a sort of procurement 101 meets institutional Brontosaurus.

Source: Sodexo