By Vivienne Russell
2 February 2011
NHS hospitals often pay over the odds for
basic supplies such as paper and surgical gloves, auditors have found.
A National Audit Office report published
today said purchasing in the NHS was fragmented, with trusts paying widely
different amounts for the same items. The NAO estimates that at least £500m a
year could be saved through more efficient procurement practices.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: ‘At least 10% of
hospitals’ spending on consumables, amounting to some £500m a year, could be
saved if trusts got together to buy products in a more collaborative way.
‘In the new NHS of constrained budgets, trust
chief executives should consider procurement as a strategic priority. Given the
scale of the potential savings which the NHS is currently failing to capture,
we believe it is important to find effective ways to hold trusts directly to
account to Parliament for their procurement practices.’
The report notes that, with no central
control over foundation trusts, the Department of Health cannot demand improved
procurement. Responsibility for this falls to the management of individual
It also found that some trusts were not
getting value for money because they were buying many different types of the
same product. For example, one trust bought 21 different types of A4 paper, 652
types of medical gloves and 1,751 different canulas. Making lots of small
purchases rather than buying in bulk can also drive up costs, the auditors
Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret
Hodge said it was ‘simply unacceptable’ that so many trusts were paying more
than they needed to.
She said: ‘This report makes clear that
individual trusts acting alone will only be able to make limited improvements
in the future. But the proposed NHS reforms will take decentralisation still
‘We look forward to exploring these vital
issues with senior officials when they come before us in a few weeks’ time. In
particular, we will want to understand whether a reconfigured NHS will be
better able to secure the substantial economies of scale that it should be
getting with the taxpayers’ money it spends.’
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the NHS
Confederation, said the report was ‘challenging’.
He added: ‘NHS leaders will want to study this national picture with great
care because we are all very aware that there has never been a more important
time to get maximum bang for buck on behalf of patients.
‘The NHS has a £100bn- a-year budget,
which means it can leverage enormous spending power. It is clear that many NHS
organisations are doing this very well but also that there is scope to do
better. With the NHS facing the greatest efficiency challenge in its history,
we have to bear down on every opportunity to make savings for the public.’