New Industry Body White Paper Review of Covid Procurement

Since early on in the pandemic, there has been significant focus on the procurement of Covid related PPE, due to unprecedented nature of the procurement needs, and the processes and results that followed. To assist with transparency, here at Spend Network, we created a table that shows all the publicly available PPE contracts, which we still update daily, and we worked with They Buy For You to analyse Covid-19 related purchasing across Europe.

Since then, many governments including the UK and Australia have begun the process of reviewing their procurement. Now, industry groups are beginning to following suite, including the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA), the national industry association for the manufacturers and distributors of IVD products in the UK, who  commissioned the University of Nottingham to produce an independent White Paper examining the UK Government’s procurement of COVID-19 tests during the pandemic.

The report examines procurement in vitro diagnostics (“IVDs”), specifically, commonly used test kits during the pandemic, and identifies themes which may provide a frame of reference for developing a Government-industry stakeholder dialogue on procurement issues. The themes identified are:

  •  The need to clearly articulate and integrate the role of public procurement within a national strategy for diagnostics. The recently published MedTech Strategy has identified the significant role of diagnostics in the health and social care system. The instrumental role of public procurement is also acknowledged. However, the Government should focus attention on the role of public procurement as a strategic tool for achieving UK diagnostics policy aims and the processes needed in support.
  •  The need to put “procurement preparedness” at the heart of the UK’s policy on diagnostics. Whilst related and often inter-dependent, “procurement” and “supply chain” considerations are often conflated. When thinking about future “pandemic preparedness”, there is a risk of focusing too much on addressing supply chain resilience which, in large part, is about levels of investment in domestic capability and logistics of supply, and not enough on how the Government defines what it needs and how it goes about buying it.
  • There needs to be an expert focus on who is doing the buying (i.e. the key institutions and their organisation) and how. A cross-Government department expert procurement group should be convened to better understand how procurement fits within a wider diagnostics policy strategy and the institutional and organisational architecture, what are the challenges of responding in an emergency and what practical reforms can be introduced to ensure emergency procurement preparedness. This should inform but also be distinct from wider thinking about supply chains, logistics and other supporting infrastructure.
  •  The need to better “triangulate” procurement, validation and approvals processes. The White Paper identifies a number of instances in which it was not clear how these processes operated distinctly and interacted. For instance, the national technical validation process was described as the “national procurement process” but it was a technical validation exercise to determine test use viability; it provides no guidance on the actual process of buying test kits.
  • The need to drive more competition into emergency procurement. Whilst legally justified on grounds of extreme urgency, there was a high incidence of direct awards which led to questions about transparency and value for money. The Government needs to consider what are the challenges which prevent competition, how it can be facilitated even in emergencies, and how it plans for the use of competitive procurement mechanisms earlier e.g. use of framework agreements and dynamic purchasing systems.
  • The need for effective communication by Government and between Government and industry. The MedTech strategy recognises the need for clearer “demand signalling” so that industry has a clearer indication of what the Government wants. One area concerns how processes are communicated to industry and how it is informed at interim stages about how processes are operating. There is also a degree of market sensitivity that must be carefully considered when making statements about contract awards. This is necessary to avoid risks of perceptions that industry, or certain parts of it, is being “shut out” of awards, or that there is “favourable treatment” which may not necessarily be justified.
  • The need for the Government to draw on international experiences as comparators. A number of countries experienced the same difficulties and which should be a point of comparison in planning the UK’s future response.
  • The need for a more formal Government-industry supplier forum for UK diagnostics. Industry associations such as BIVDA and the Association of British Health Tech Industries (ABHI) have provided a vital point of communication between Government and industry. There is scope to establish more formal lines of communication which in turn will help the Government in its efforts to improve “demand signalling” to industry, make industry more aware of its policy priorities and possible market opportunities and to develop potential partnerships of the kind found in other sectors.

You can read the report in full here.

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