On 24 November 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care released the paper "Busting Bureaucracy" which looks at ways in which it can achieve the objective of "empowering frontline staff by reducing excess bureaucracy in the health and care system in England". This paper is DHSC's response to a consultation that closed in September.
One of the measures considered to reduce bureaucracy relates to procurement law, and the requirements to advertise new contract opportunities and conduct public tender procedures under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 and the Health and Social Care Act 2012. These laws apply to series of purchasing bodies (depending on what is being procured and by whom) including Clinical Commissioning Groups, NHS Trusts, NHS England and local authorities.
The response paper provides the clearest indication yet that government intends to legislate to make healthcare procurement law more "flexible" than it currently is, with a view to releasing resources to support frontline activities. The report also notes, however, that a level of regulation remains necessary in order to ensure that appropriate governance and scrutiny is applied to important procurement decisions, which in turn supports the quality of the services that the public sector buys.
No new law has been created yet and no firm conclusions on the detail of any new law has been provided. However, healthcare providers and contracting authorities will no doubt be interested in the forthcoming consultation that NHS England and NHS Improvement plan to conduct. For providers, the result of that consultation is likely to affect the way public sector work is accessed for the foreseeable future. When details of that consultation are released, we will provide a further update.
NHSE/I will shortly be consulting on how a new procurement regime would operate. This will take into account the views of local government, local commissioners, providers, patients and the public to explore future legislation that streamlines the current procurement rules, reduces the need for unnecessary competitive tendering and reduces uncertainty for providers, freeing up NHS and local authority time and resources.