PPE procurement – a useful guide

Guest blog contributed by procurement specialists Marr Procurement

PPE procurement has never been so challenging.  It has brought out the best and worst in our suppliers and has been the focus of a huge proportion of our team over the last 3 months.  We’ve been riding the PPE rollercoaster along with our Care Sector clients, and we’d like to share what we’ve learned along the way, in the hope that we don’t have to experience a repeat of such a dire situation in the future.

In this article we’ll be addressing the challenges we’ve face on price and availability and share what we’ve learned along the way.

Price

PPE manufacturers and suppliers have taken full advantage of the increased demand in PPE across the healthcare sector.  Some of the statistics on price inflation we’ve come across are staggering.  Across our Care Sector client buying base the inflation figures on price by category from February to May this year are:

  • Nitrile Gloves 300%
  • Disposable Aprons 471%
  • Type IIR Surgical Masks 346%
  • Type II Surgical Masks 5124%
  • Hand Sanitiser 365%
  • Safety Glasses 84%

Whilst this is an example of the economics of supply and demand at work, the price hikes are unsustainable.  We have also been shocked at some of the practices we have come across in some parts of the supply chain. 

Thankfully, procurement specialists can navigate dealing what one of our team members described as ‘unscrupulous characters’. Procurement companies can stil save money for clients when buying PPE due to economies of scale and negotiation techniques. 

It is very clear to anyone that with inflation over three months of levels of hundreds if not thousands of percent on PPE pricing, many care sector organisations will rapidly become insolvent, without careful sourcing of supplies. 

The COVID crisis is not going away, particularly in the Care Sector, so the long-term use of full PPE is a reality set to stay.  The Government must step in to mitigate this issue with extra funding and support.  Scrapping VAT on PPE and the £600 million infection control fund were a step in the right direction but much more needs to be done to both regulate the market and help fund the increase in PPE needs care sector businesses look set to stay with.

UKHCA members First City Nursing and Care teamed up with a 3D printing company in the early stages of lockdown to create its own protective facemasks.

Availability

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the arms race of PPE procurement was like nothing we’ve ever seen.  Due to insufficient supply in the UK, all kinds of organisations from both the UK and abroad were crawling out of the woodwork.  Our usual suppliers hiked their prices up knowing that they were a reliable source for us and a plethora of low-quality PPE flooded the marketplace. 

We are finding now that availability is improving week by week but quality is still an issue.  This is leading to some purchasers using the practice of ‘double-gloving’.  Due to lower quality gloves that tear more easily and employees with higher anxiety levels, twice as many gloves are being used than in fact necessary if the correct quality glove is procured in the first place for example.

The production of domestic production of PPE in the UK has finally been ramped up in recent weeks, yet the reliance on international supply is not healthy, particularly from China.

Carer Ellie with client Colin from UKHCA members Radfield Home Care Harrogate, Wetherby & North Yorkshire

Lessons Learned & Advice

We have learned a lot during the crisis and can share some of the most relevant issues with you here:

  • Buy higher quality and buy once – avoid issues such as double-gloving by buying good quality upfront and providing adequate reassurance and training to staff on the issue.
  • Ask certification before you enter negotiations to save time.  In our experience many new suppliers who approached us claiming to have stock in the UK already were often not trustworthy sources with no certification or in fact no stock in the UK ready to go.
  • We now know which suppliers we trust and can count on – what a short-term view many businesses have taken by not looking after the very organisations that made them the success they are.  Once the dust settles, the sector will use the suppliers who behaved the best in a crisis.
  • Planning ahead – it is now a great time to crisis plan for a future, similar event.  Working out what a reasonable stock-pile looks like in terms of quantities and shelf life could help mitigate future problems should a second spike or different pandemic hit.  Holding a healthy level of stock can also mitigate against future price spikes like the one we’ve just experienced.
  • Go back to your suppliers now that there is more stock available and renegotiate.  You may have to do this weekly until prices drop to healthier levels.  Without having the conversation, the price to your business may stay unnecessarily high.
  • Budget for increased levels of PPE at higher prices for the foreseeable future.  Although the price of face masks for instance is dropping, they’re still not at what we’d call a healthy level.
  • Control the supply chain from start to finish if possible.  With some clients, we actually delivered the product ourselves to ensure this product arrive in time.  Many more agile procurement functions used their own delivery methods to gain ultimate control.  This has seen volunteers, taxi drivers, team members or suppliers across other categories getting involved in distributing PPE and therefore ensuring it arrives when needed.
  • Make sure you’ve accessed the government’s infection control fund.  More details here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/adult-social-care-infection-control-fund
  • Use forecasting to estimate usage rates and buy ahead of forecast to ensure all of your sites are well provisioned for.

This blog is contributed by Marr Procurement and they can be contacted here: [email protected]