07 May, 2010

7 May 2010 | Andy Allen

After nearly 10 years as the main health service purchasing organisation, the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (PASA) has finally closed its doors.

All of PASA’s non-clinical core categories are now being handled by public sector procurement agency Buying Solutions, adding nearly £1.6 billion to its annual spend. PASA formally closed at the beginning of last month, although it has been transferring responsibilities for a year.

Procurement of pharmaceuticals, meanwhile, has passed to the Commercial Medicines Unit at the Department of Health (DH).

There were mixed feelings among former PASA staff who had been transferred. One former buyer, who declined to be named, said the changes had been driven through as a result of external consultants’ recommendations but had little relevance to real conditions in the organisation and would be wasteful.

The buyer added that there was widespread resentment about job losses among former PASA staff and said: “This is a political hot potato. We’re all trying to find our feet.”

The DH and Buying Solutions were unable to confirm how many of the 250 former PASA employees had lost their jobs. The DH was unavailable for comment, but Buying Solutions said 50 former PASA buyers were now in its employ and added it had not had complaints from staff. Another former PASA buyer now working for Buying Solutions denied there was widespread discontent among transferred employees.

“In any process of change like this you have people who don’t like what’s happening,” he said.

This buyer said he was confident the new system would deliver better service and value for money.

Despite PASA’s claims that it had saved more than £1 billion from the NHS purchasing bill during recent years, the agency had effectively suffered the death of a thousand cuts. In 2006 a £3.7 billion-a-year contract to purchase medical supplies was outsourced to DHL/Novation.

Paul Neill, managing partner of public sector specialists The Bidding Consultancy, believes that PASA will not be missed. “My experience of dealing with NHS PASA was not always a good one. It was simply too big and too remote to reflect local needs,” he said.

He also believes, however, that under the new arrangement health service procurement will still remain too centralised and remote as the new government strives to achieve urgent savings.





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