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Supplying to the NHS: the solution for SMEs
Nick Frame - August 31, 2016

Small companies find it ‘almost impossible’ to engage with the NHS on a national basis; this was one of the messages from public sector procurement consultant Colin Cram when he was interviewed by BiP Solutions journalist Donald Macinnes earlier this summer at P4H 2016 at the NEC in Birmingham. There is hope, however. Here, Donald touches on the highlights of the interview and the significance of a new R&D programme for SMEs called the Horizontal Innovation Programme.

The problem

It’s been said time and time again that some of the most innovative and valuable sector ideas are the brainchildren of smaller companies. Mr Cram, however, states that the majority of smaller companies find it ‘almost impossible’ to engage with the NHS on a national basis, leaving them having to try to engage with hospitals one by one. The problem with this style of engagement is that SMEs tend not to have the resources to carry it out.

Mr Cram stated: “Several small companies have told me recently that they’re going to give up on the NHS and sell to places like South East Asia, where it’s very much easier to sell.”

This under-utilisation of the UK’s SME resource is furthermore detrimental to the NHS itself, with potential cost savings being lost through a lack of competition in procurement exercises – something that can easily be rectified according to Mr Cram.

The solution

Addressing the keynote arena at P4H 2016, Mr Cram detailed his recommendations for better UK health procurement and how procurement departments can find the solutions they require from smaller companies often right on their doorstep.

He said: “I’d like people to raise their game in procurement. Instead of just looking at ways of saving procurement costs and reducing prices, I’d like procurement people to actually see what opportunities and products are available that will help reduce NHS costs generally and improve customer care.”

The technology exists

Mr Cram cited one example of an innovation from an SME: “One of the examples I used in my speech was a little piece of electronic equipment that can help indicate when a patient is moving around either in bed or in a chair when they’re liable to fall.

The cost of falls to the NHS is around £2 billion a year and yet I think the cost of this equipment to the NHS, if it was rolled out, would be something like £10-20 million. This equipment has reduced falls at a couple of hospitals by about 80%. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that we’re looking at savings in excess of £1 billion a year, from one piece of equipment.”

An expert recommendation

Mr Cram recommends that procurement experts start to identify opportunities such as these and push them within their hospitals; yes, you might be buying something you had perhaps not intended to buy but you might get a massive return in the same year and very much improved patient care.

He said: “I reckon that if procurement people really took advantage of all the opportunities that are out there – doing things differently – the potential savings to the NHS would perhaps be £5-10 billion a year, and the benefit to patients would be immeasurable.”

An opportunity

Echoing Mr Cram’s ambitions for SMEs, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) have launched a new Research and Development (R&D) Programme for SMEs worth £35,000, with the intention of solving problems in the healthcare sector.

The Horizontal Innovation Programme will allow a UK SME to have access to the MTC’s state of the art manufacturing centre in Coventry, allowing the company to realise the full potential of its designs.

Not only will the SME be granted access to advanced manufacturing equipment, it will also receive support in business planning, design and engineering expertise.

The Horizontal Innovation Programme is a key example of increasing SME opportunities in the healthcare sector and points to a more SME-involved healthcare procurement system in the future.

How Supply can help

Between April and June 2016, Supply published 3294 medical, health and social work supplies and services contracts.

Being the UK’s largest database of public sector contracts, Supply gives you a direct feed into the availability of contracts in a sector that is initially not easy to supply to.

Furthermore, Supply’s coverage of supply chain opportunities means that SMEs have the chance to seize opportunities in both the public and private sectors.

Supply’s daily email alert pinpoints opportunities in a time-effective way, so that even the smallest of businesses can grow at minimum cost.

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