What are the procurement lessons from the coronavirus pandemic?

The NHS’s procurement response to the coronavirus pandemic appears to be a tale of two approaches. In the early stages there was a sense of optimism and determination as the country pulled together to “beat the virus” any way it could. The government showed uncharacteristically creative thinking by turning to British industry to meet the demand for ventilators, while some of those who supplied technology to the NHS were praising it for the new speed at which it was deploying new technology solutions. Yet at the same time, we all saw the media reports of PPE shortages.

Clearly the NHS faced a situation for which there is no parallel, and you will undoubtedly find countless examples of quick thinking and rigid policymaking.

But what would a middle ground look like? Could lessons be learned to bring more agility to NHS procurement in the future?

There are five ways we feel the NHS can address its procurement challenges:

  1. Educate the NHS on the procurement frameworks available – the framework agreements already provide faster routes for procurement, but they need to be used

  2. More standardisation of frameworks and working processes – this will make it easier to scale down/up more quickly and make it easier for suppliers

  3. Move NHS away from primarily using/building its own e.g. NHS Trusts routinely build their own datacentres. While some cloud contracts have been awarded to Google and Amazon most recently, the Cabinet Office’s own cloud provider, Crown Hosting, could be better utilised

  4. Drive efficiency from the top by appointing a “Minister of Government Efficiency” – someone who can review all public sector procurement practices and drive reform across the whole sector and in every department. This should be a cabinet role to ensure real change

  5. More agile procurement, especially in times of crisis – the NHS demonstrated its ability to be flexible with tech startups during the crisis. It needs to replicate this in other areas, especially since stockpiling often isn’t feasible due to storage costs and the short lifespan of many items

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