Sustainable Procurement in the NHS
Researchers have collaborated to provide cutting-edge teaching and dissemination of best-practice to support ‘sustainable procurement’.
The UK Government’s Sustainable Development Strategy, launched in March 2005, aspired to make Britain the leader in sustainable procurement in Europe by 2009. The term ‘sustainable procurement’ refers to corporate purchasing which takes account of environmental constraints on social and economic choices. The NHS employs more than 1.3 million people and spends over £19 billion per annum on goods and services. Its actions as a corporate citizen and the way it spends money have significant environmental, social and economic impacts. It purchases a broad range of products and services, from surgical gloves to whole hospitals, food through to energy. It forms contracts with everything from international companies to small businesses.
Two groups of researchers from the Centre for Research in Education & the Environment (CREE) and the Centre for Research in Strategic Purchasing & Supply (CRiSPS), collaborated to provide cutting-edge teaching and dissemination of best-practice to procurement managers. They have researched into how organisational learning on sustainable procurement can be developed and embedded into corporate practice.
The groups were funded by the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (NHS PASA). Senior procurement staff of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) were involved in designing the research.
Data collection focused on two cohorts of 25 procurement managers during a six month period in early 2005. Each cohort was observed during an intensive eight week period which included:
- face-to-face interactions
- online challenges using a Virtual Learning Environment
- video-conferencing technology
- a ‘presentation day’ at which participants presented their work to an invited audience and group interviews.
Researchers found that online training for procurement professionals was the best way to teach this kind of complex material. They discovered more effective learning results if participants collaborate to improve supply sustainability for a particular surgical device than if they are shown a list of bullet points about 'sustainable supply'.
The team also found that sustainable procurement professionals need support to interpret and apply general principles at local level. For example, general principles might be to source products locally where possible and to encourage healthy eating. In Cornwall this might be done if hospitals specify that all fish must be fresh. In other parts of the country this wouldn't work as well. Different responses would be appropriate. The work was praised by UK Government’s Sustainable Procurement Task Force, the UK Sustainable Development Commission, the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit at HM Treasury and officials of the State Treasury of Victoria, Australia. Dr Steve Gough, Head of the Department of Education, says: “The key contribution is in closing the gap between policy, the day-to-day knowledge and working reality of purchasing practitioners.”
To provide cutting-edge teaching and dissemination of best-practice to procurement managers.