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With AdviseInc, it's more than just a tool!

Modified on: Sat, 01 Jun, 2019 at 10:00 AM
Author: Simon Walsh / Paul Horsman

Simon Walsh, Group Procurement Director - Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust recently took some time out to share his thoughts with one of the team at AdviseInc. Read to find out what makes us different...

I’ve always had a very rewarding and supportive career. But the responsibility is quite rightly significant. I’m the Group Procurement Director for the largest NHS trust in the UK. That’s twenty thousand staff, two-and-a-half-thousand beds, 85 operating theatres and £1.6 billion of operating income. I have overall responsibility for the effective utilisation of our £600m non-pay spend.

Having a well-resourced, well-developed and well-supported team means I can fulfil those duties without losing too much sleep. But it’s a growing organisation with new services being developed, new customers coming on board and new services joining the group. So, all that needs to be supported and planned. And to stay financially strong, we also need to support the trust’s financial position through innovation and savings.

Access to data and quality has been a challenge for the NHS

With NHS procurement, data is very much part of customer care. Some devices fitted inside a patient – such as implants for orthopaedics, breast prosthesis or diabetes – might need to be replaced, or the manufacturer will recall them or need to know where they’ve been fitted. You can’t do that without good data.

Yet access to data, its quality, the way it’s been inputted and the analytics of data has always been a real challenge within the NHS. Historically, systems were paper-based. Capturing and managing data was generally poor. Purchase order coverage was always limited. In that scenario, procurement teams would tend to go to the supplier. So, you were in this embarrassing position where the supplier knew more about your data than you did.

From a control, credibility and development perspective, why wouldn’t we want to command our data as a professional procurement team? Why wouldn’t we want to know what we’re buying, who we’re buying it from, how much we’re paying and how we compare with other people? Hence using analytical tools such as Procurement Dashboard (PD).

Critical that a provider understands how NHS procurement works, is approachable and accessible

The NHS is littered with systems that people have licences and access to, yet nobody uses them because they don’t have any confidence in it. The principle of a price benchmarking tool for the NHS needs to be established and maintained. To get your data in a state where it’s useful, you’ve got to do some work on it and you’ve got to set some data standards. Clear descriptions, pack sizes, correct pricing, quantities, delivery times… all these details matter. The quality of output depends on the quality of input.

There are several providers within the NHS, but I think AdviseInc understand how NHS procurement works and can apply that knowledge to good data principles. They’re very approachable, very personable and accessible. That’s a good USP for the business. And their training is crucial. It’s fine doing webinars and things like that, but having key people visiting the trust to do face-to-face training is important, along with their helpdesk to back it up.

It’s also relatively easy to use their price benchmarking tool. It’s a simple principle of finding out how much you pay compared to what other people pay, and being able to do comparison and analysis. That ability to understand where you are in a market in terms of price is crucial, and historically NHS buyers haven’t always been able to do that. Having evidence that you are (or aren’t) paying the best price puts you in a very powerful position. It’s an important asset to have.

NHS buyers aren’t often as well equipped, trained or supported from the main suppliers. So, I think Procurement Dashboard (PD) is one of the tools that builds their confidence when going into discussions, negotiations and project workings. It’s another tool in their armour.

But a good, friendly support system is also important

It’s been 18 months since we’ve been fully up to speed with the different modules of AdviseInc’s Analytics solutions. At the last count, we recorded £400,000 worth of savings. That’s £400,000 worth of opportunities, investment and support for other pressures. Every penny gets recycled.

And that’s what you get when you have those innovative people. Others could have come up with cheaper solutions or lower cost solutions, but a good procurement team will be looking at what’s the best solution. We’re a £1.6 billion organisation… we don’t want to save ourselves £1,000 if it means losing £50,000 further down the line.

Going forward, I’d like to identify contract coverage better. But it’s important the tool is backed up by skilled people and resources. That’s what you get with AdviseInc… a good support system with a friendly and noble team. I think they have a very credible approach.