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The good news about NHS procurement

Nick Allen is procurement advisor for GM AHSN, where he puts more than 30 years of NHS experience to use, helping companies get their products into public sector healthcare.

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Recent figures from the NHS North West Procurement Development show NHS organisations in Greater Manchester spend around £290 million a year on procurement, and a third of this, around £43.5 million, is on products and services from SMEs within their footprint.

For SMEs that have never done this kind of business before, getting a product or service into the NHS is a challenge. On one hand, they know their product will have positive health and cost benefits, while on the other they are attempting to engage a vast and complex public sector organisation, which is subject to regional management and UK and European regulation.

The good news is there’s help for SMEs; starting on the journey to NHS procurement is made simpler in knowing where the information is, which questions need to be asked, and who can answer them. This is where the Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network (GM AHSN) can step in.

Greater Manchester is home to one of 15 AHSNs around the UK who are supporting this idea, each with a strategy unique to its populous and its membership organisations, which include Trusts and universities. We’d like to – and the government would too – see more business done between the NHS and SMEs to stimulate innovation within public sector healthcare to improve its value for money and patient outcomes, and to boost local economies.

GM AHSN has a primary focus on cardiovascular health, patient safety (especially medication error) and digital health/informatics. Its secondary priorities are atrial fibrillation, chronic kidney disease, familial hypercholesterolaemia (a genetic cause of high cholesterol and heart disease), EPaCCs (end of life care) and orthopaedics.

The priority areas were identified by the AHSN as being able to add the most value, according to results from original engagement work prior to the launch of our Innovation Nexus initiative.

Innovation Nexus facilitates our engagement of both med-tech and healthcare businesses – from SMEs to global companies – and the NHS. In its first year we helped med-tech companies access funding, procurement support and services to help with lab resources, office space, public sector collaboration and relocation.

  • A total of 146 enquiries received and 116 consultations completed
  • 80% of those businesses were SMEs
  • More than 1,500 hours of support provided to businesses
  • 9 SMEs helped to draw down a share of £1m from the Corridor Growth Fund
  • 50 new jobs created as a result

Coming to Innovation Nexus is a key stage for companies. They might be at the R&D stage, or ready to enter into medical trials. But they have one thing in common – they’re already thinking about how to get their products into the NHS.

So, they might need funding help or to be introduced to AHSN member organisations that can collaborate with them on development or testing. But they will usually need help with procurement. This is our most in-demand service.

Procurement help comes in several forms. My immersive experience of how it works from pitch to contract, helps me give the right guidance that will help businesses approach NHS procurement departments directly and successfully. I also help companies identify tender opportunities, and to understand how the various tendering processes work so they can compete for business.

Exploring the procurement options helps businesses make informed decisions and take them forward. Procurement support is the most asked-for service that comes under the Innovation Nexus banner.

Yet while the NHS is a complicated organisation, its awareness that innovation, especially tech innovation, is a key driver of cost-efficiency and a cornerstone of modern patient care, is encouraging to our talented and flexible SMEs, whose products create opportunities that the NHS needs. Better communication will create opportunities for both.

We know and understand that the NHS is a huge organisation and at times the journey within can seem very daunting for new suppliers (SMEs), but we are here to make that journey easier, we know the nooks and crannies, we know where the potential walls of silence are.

It is to this end that stimulating discussions between the innovators and the NHS clinicians or commissioners in the CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) will bring about the positive thought processes which in turn create the opportunities the NHS needs.

SMEs can seek more information and contact me at the Innovation Nexus via the contact form here.