Procurement report

Procurement in a changing healthcare environment

National Director of HSE Procurement, John Swords, discusses the enabling role of procurement in delivering Sláintecare – the State’s 10-year programme to transform our health and social care services.

As the largest purchaser in the State, with responsibility for over one-quarter of the overall health budget (€4.9 billion), procurement has a significant influence on Sláintecare’s ambition to enhance access and performance, ensure timely implementation, and improve public confidence.

Swords is speaking in a transformation context, with six new HSE health regions introduced to replace hospital groups and community healthcare organisations, with the aim of providing integrated health and social care services for the people in those regions.

This, he states, will be a central component to development of the 2025 Corporate Procurement Plan, which will see central procurement retained but regional needs addressed.

According to Swords, the plan will take account of regional needs, but also build on the shared understanding of the power of collective procurement established over the past decade, as well as procurement’s role as an enabler of service delivery.

Outlining the framework of the forthcoming five-year strategy, he says: “It will include different demands of the regional executive officers, who will be concentrated on their areas, but that concentration will splinter into two key areas of the local, and the collective.

“HSE Procurement has a role to play in both of those areas,” he states, adding: “Procurement will have a presence in the regions, and report directly into those regions, but will also be heavily reliant on the centre. That centre will include ourselves in health as one collective voice, but also in collaboration with the Office of Government Procurement (OGP).

Swords sets out the four core procurement objectives as:

  1. Ensuring supply: Providing continuity of supply; ensuring availability of appropriate quality goods and services where needed, and when.
  2. Compliance: Ensuring the HSE and all staff members comply with procurement Directives, legislation, circulars, and other legal requirements.
  3. Centre and region: Ensuring that purchasing is carried out in a coordinated and strategic manner that maximises opportunities for savings and improved compliance.
  4. Social inclusion and sustainability: Encouraging and stimulating opportunities for green procurement, innovation, social inclusion and participation by SMEs and microenterprises in the procurement process.

Focusing attention on the fourth objective, which centres on green and sustainable procurement, Swords outlines the identification of sustainable procurement as key theme of the HSE Climate Action Strategy 2023-2050. To this end, he says that the forthcoming corporate plan will have a significant emphasis on sustainability, with major changes expected in the award criteria for tenders.

“It is time for doing and not talking,” he states, adding: “Business as usual should be sustainable in both ways.”

Highlighting work already underway in this regard, he points to a pilot project set to be introduced later in 2024 to develop sustainable skills. The HSE Corporate Procurement Plan highlights a need for suppliers to prepare, and a recent white paper Driving Sustainability in Health Tech Supply Chains through Procurement: An Irish Leadership Opportunity, identifies the upskilling of procurement functions on sustainability as a critical need.

In response, the HSE, HealthTech Ireland, Sustainable Enterprise Skillnet, and 20FIFTY Partners have come together to address this gap with a new pathfinder programme, aimed at providing a longer-term strategic response to talent and skills development in not just the health sector but across multiple sectors in which the Sustainable Enterprise Skillnet operates.

Integrated Financial Management and Procurement System (IFMS)

Turning to the implementation of the new IFMS, the national single, national integrated financial management and procurement system for the health sector, Swords recognises that the shift has not come without challenges for both operators and suppliers but stresses the benefits of a move to the centralised management of invoices.

New developments, including a new standard national finance and procurement processes, are being rolled out on a phased implementation basis to all publicly funded health organisations, and will involve changes for people, processes, and technology.

Included in the introduction of a mandated, compliant, national procurement process are features like greater use of electronic documentation and more self-service procurement, and Swords says that the streamlined approach will “have many benefits”.

“Business as usual should be sustainable in both ways.”

John Swords, National Director of HSE Procurement

Offering a summary of the evolution of procurement delivery in the HSE, he says: “Sláintecare is a programme of change which is centred on improving patient care. Procurement must play its role in how we adapt our contracts with our suppliers and how we conduct business because doing so will bring many benefits. Those benefits must ultimately be for patients, but can also benefit businesses, particularly as we take a more regional approach to healthcare delivery.

“Collectively, we want to improve access and performance, ensure timely implementation, and improve public confidence, and we can do this through the delivery of an integrated procurement approach for the health sector.”

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