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What makes good procurement? The importance of data quality and transparency in NHS expenditure

By Martin Bell, Head of Procurement, Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust



High-quality data is the bedrock of meaningful analysis and decision-making. It plays a pivotal role in enabling an effective understanding of financial expenditure within any NHS trust or integrated care system (ICS).  

Without robust data quality, it becomes challenging to work out where resources are being utilised and whether they are being deployed optimally.

Ensuring high data quality and transparency is crucial for effective decision-making, resource allocation, fostering public trust and positively impacting healthcare outcomes.

The need for transparency

Transparency in healthcare expenditure is not only a matter of good governance but also a prerequisite for fostering public trust and accountability.

Transparency also empowers stakeholders, including policymakers, healthcare professionals and patients to participate in informed discussions about resource allocation and healthcare priorities.

When financial data is openly available and easily understandable, it becomes possible to identify inefficiencies, discrepancies and areas for improvement, leading to better decision-making and resource utilisation.

Setting a solid foundation

We are very much a data driven team at Mid Cheshire – so much so that we were recognised nationally by NHS England back in September for the level of our data quality.

To get to this point we did a lot of work on creating a solid foundation in order for us to understand our spend effectively.

Firstly, we fostered a culture of transparency and data-driven decision-making to harness the collective expertise of our internal stakeholders.

This meant we could continuously improve the quality and understanding of expenditure data.

We made sure that our internal stakeholders understood the importance of accurate, complete and consistent data by raising awareness of what this would achieve for the trust.

We then set about making sure we had the right classification of data to understand which department spends what and where in the trust.

Robust classification enables the aggregation of spending data into meaningful categories, which helps us to identify patterns, trends, and areas for potential improvement.

The classification of data also facilitates the comparison of spending across different regions and departments, offering valuable insights into resource allocation and utilisation.

Overcoming the challenges

Ensuring high data quality and transparency did present us with some significant challenges though.

The sheer volume of financial transactions, suppliers and diverse sources of funding, means that it’s difficult to maintain consistent data quality and transparency.

This is where data management technologies can make all the difference.

Since the beginning of this year, we’ve been using AdviseInc as a spend analytics tool.

AdviseInc’s Platform provides us with insights at a national, regional and ICS level which helps our trust to create strategies and enables us to coordinate and compare spend with the other trusts in our ICS.

One of the key areas we’ve looked at with AdviseInc is around influenceable spend. This is spend our procurement team influence.

For example, we don’t influence the monies being paid to HMRC, but we do influence the spend with Johnson and Johnson.

Coupled with AdviseInc’s Non-Pay classification, it enables us to get greater visibility and manage spend more efficiently.

We also wanted to drive product standardisation between our hospitals and across our ICS. With AdviceInc’s dashboard we’re able to do just that.

It gives us a complete picture of what products we’re buying, in what volumes and how much for.

This means we can reduce suppliers of the same items and get better economies of scale.

We have begun to advance our business intelligence maturity by developing dashboards to provide continuous reporting.

Within a few seconds we have information that accurately shows total non-pay spend, how much of this is addressable or drills down into a specific category or supplier. This also improves our data and helps with forecasting and contract management.

This platform is one of the most useful tools that we use as a team.

We’ve now got more people who can access the information they need in a quick and effective way.

By leveraging this technology, we can automate data quality assessment, identify anomalies or discrepancies, and provide intuitive interfaces for our teams to explore and comprehend spending patterns.

Enhanced decision-making and accountability

We are developing better insights from spend analytics and work planning which is helping drive category and contract management and improving reporting accuracy.

It also means the team can be more effective and efficient helping to increase the value being delivered by procurement.

The impact of robust data quality and transparency in NHS procurement extends beyond mere record-keeping.

High-quality, transparent data empowers procurement teams and the trust or ICS as a whole to make evidence-based decisions regarding resource allocation, service improvements and healthcare priorities.

It enables effective performance benchmarking and allows us to identify potential commercial opportunities.

Clear and accessible financial information promotes accountability, but it’s crucial to establish a strong foundation.

If you put inaccurate data in, you’ll get rubbish data out.

That’s why when we’ve identified anomalies or problems, and proactively address them.

We know that when spend data is readily accessible and can be clearly understood, it drives evidence-based decision-making.

It becomes easier to identify areas of potential waste, inefficiency, or disparities, which then drives continuous improvement.

Ultimately, what makes good procurement is this commitment to good data quality and transparency.

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