NHS procurement easy wins

By Eanna O Lochlainn

Making savings in the NHS doesn’t have to be painful. NHS procurement is an area one might find – to use a hackneyed phrase – some low hanging fruit.

The Carter Review, published this week, has identified £5bn worth of potential savings to the NHS. It contains some eye-popping examples of procurement practices that continue in the farther reaches of the NHS.

Trusts ordering medicines by fax anyone? Apparently this is still going on. At a time when hundreds of millions of pounds are being pumped into the system for the spread and adoption of innovation, Lord Carter proposes we invest in a centralised NHS e-ordering system with all its concomitant cost savings. It would doubtless be a big project, and the interoperability issues alone would be an absolute nightmare, but we can hardly bracket this as innovation. This is about getting the basics right.

At the sharp edge of pharmaceutical innovation, I note Lord Carter singles out biosimilars, (biopharmaceutical drugs designed to have active properties similar to ones which have already been licensed). He highlighted the use of Infliximab biosimiliars, indicated for treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases. He claimed switching to biosimilar versions could save an estimated £60 million a year for the NHS spend on this one drug alone.

He urged NHS Improvement to regularly publish a list of the top ten medicines with savings opportunities for trusts to pursue.

Now there’s a quick win if ever I saw one.