NHS gets own price comparison website

Suture The price of medical equipment can vary greatly

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A price comparison website is being created to help the NHS in England save millions of pounds in the way it purchases good and services.

It will include details of what NHS trusts are paying for everything from rubber gloves and stitches to new hips and building work.

The post of procurement champion has also been created to help improve purchasing systems.

The NHS has been heavily criticised for the way it buys supplies.

Two years ago the National Audit Office estimated that more than 10% could be saved through better procurement.

The watchdog looked at the way the NHS purchased supplies and found for 5,000 items the difference in the amount paid was more than 50%.

Another review by the consultants Ernst and Young last year found similar discrepancies.

For example, the price paid for the same box of medical forceps ranged from £13 to £23, while for blankets the costs differed from £47 to £120.

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said the "scandalous situation" must end.

"When our NHS is the single biggest organisation in the UK, hospitals must wake up to the potential to make big savings and radically change the way they buy supplies, goods, services and how they manage their estates."

The Department of Health believes savings of £1.5bn could be made out of a total spend of just over £20bn.

Information sharing

One of the key factors in the poor practices highlighted has been the lack of information sharing between trusts about what each pays for identical goods and services.

Hence the creation of the price index, designed on the price comparison websites that the public use for things such as energy and insurance quotes.

The creation of a procurement champion is also being seen as vital.

Once appointed they will work with a team of advisers drawn from the NHS and private business who will help scrutinise and spread best practice.

One of the areas where it is felt savings could also be made is through bulk buying, which is done by the NHS Supply Chain on behalf of the health service.

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