Enabling frontline teams to deliver more than 100 million doses as part of the COVID-19 vaccination programme required significant commercial expertise.
Arden & GEM’s procurement and contracting team worked on behalf of NHS England to develop and execute a successful procurement strategy for vaccine-related equipment and consumables in an intensely competitive international market. Building on this success, the team went on to deliver support for the programme’s workforce, technology and logistics workstreams ensuring that the right resources were in the right place at the right time while achieving value for money.
The safe and effective delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination programme required significant commercial support to procure and manage underpinning resources from workforce to technology to equipment, and the logistics to ensure that resources were where they were needed, when they were needed.
NHS England’s Commercial team engaged Arden & GEM’s procurement expertise in August 2020 to begin developing the procurement strategy for equipment and consumables – including everything from office chairs to low temperature freezers – for an anticipated vaccination programme.
The team would need to work closely with external partners – tasked with programme management, modelling and governance – to develop and execute a national procurement strategy in what was predicted to be an intensely competitive international market. Specifically, this would include:
- Identifying accelerated routes to market
- Providing legislative compliance and governance support
- Effective supply chain management.
An initial team of three, with experience of public sector procurement, contracting and commercial solutions, was brought together to deliver the support needed, together with an Associate Director of Procurement to manage client interaction and as point of escalation.
Building the specification
The first task was to interrogate modelling completed by an external consultancy which predicted the equipment quantities needed. By testing this using different patient scenarios, findings and recommendations were produced to enhance the model set-up.
The second task was to determine a detailed specification for the different equipment needed by coordinating expertise from clinicians, medical device specialists and clinical safety teams. This exercise was critical for key equipment such as fridges and freezers which would need to be kept at constant temperatures, with monitoring and recording in place, to ensure the efficacy and safety of vaccine stock.
Each vaccination site would also need defibrillator kits and anaphylaxis kits to effectively manage any adverse reaction events.
Developing the procurement strategy
A procurement strategy was then developed which outlined a buying timeline and process, for approval by the NHS England Commercial Executive Group. Given the expected competitiveness of the international market for vaccine related equipment and consumables a strategy of overbuying was pursued with ‘sell back’ clauses implemented within contracts.
Sourcing items in a competitive marketplace
We started an early dialogue with suppliers about requirements to ensure a good understanding of the market, products, quantities and lead times which enabled us to swiftly begin procurement processes with successful results.
Once the list of items, quantities and specifications had been fully established, the team turned their focus to sourcing, taking a three-stage approach. Where the NHS Supply Chain catalogue and existing frameworks weren’t appropriate, the team went out to market via contracts finder and OJEU, with mini competitions facilitated as needed.
Improving supply chain management
A detailed inventory was developed to accurately track every single item purchased. This was supplemented by regular site stocktake visits. As the project scope increased, the team established a thorough approach to contract set-up and management with all suppliers. The client was kept appraised of progress through regular dialogue and a monthly highlight report, with reports also provided to the Cabinet Office.
Delivering value for money
While the need to ensure adequate stock levels offset the risk of over-buying, it quickly became apparent that the speed with which vaccination sites were opening and closing was leading to potential stock surplus in a number of areas. Our team devised and secured approval for a repatriation programme to move equipment and consumables between sites. This proactive initiative was made possible by the detailed inventory and stocktake system which had been put in place at the project’s outset.
For just one local health system, repatriated items which could be repurposed equated to over £800k, generating a significant saving for the public purse.
While this work was underway, further advice and support was requested and delivered for additional procurement workstreams including portacabins, vehicles and wash basins.
Between November 2020 and April 2022, 34,905 items of equipment and consumables were procured, worth £15.4 million.
While the quality of existing catalogue products and existing suppliers was reliable, the need to turn to the open market raised the risk of products not meeting the correct specification. Our team put robust processes in place to ensure the reputability of suppliers, including financial and reputational due diligence, to ensure there were no issues with product quality on this project.
Building on the success of this workstream support, Arden & GEM was also assigned responsibility for finalising and managing workforce contracts worth £94m, for staff and volunteers, and reviewing and assuring contracts for technology and data suppliers worth £183m. This expansion of scope required the team to grow in size to 12 staff.
All contracts were aligned to the NHS England contract management framework to ensure that ongoing activity could be successfully transferred to business-as-usual.
"The team was outstanding in their flexibility to react to the constant ever-changing demands that the programme called for. This in turn translated into the ability to rapidly mobilise new vaccination locations with the equipment, workforce, security and vehicles needed."
Richard Stonehewer, EECL Procurement Lead Principal, Efficio Consulting
This support won the 'Best Public Procurement Project' category at the CIPS Excellence in Procurement Awards 2022.