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How can the BMA help you make trade in medical products fairer?

More than £88 billion of public money is spent on health and care services in England alone every year. Of this, more than £40 billion is spent on procuring goods, services and infrastructure in order to deliver services.

As such, no single approach to ethical procurement will be effective for every NHS organisation. The BMA has outlined a series of steps that healthcare professionals can take to ensure that those responsible for making purchasing decisions at their place of work can ensure that employment conditions and workers rights in the supply chains of the products and services they procure are maintained in line with internationally recognised conventions and local laws.

What support do you feel that you need in order to raise the issue of ethical procurement with those responsible for making the decisions within your NHS organisation? 

3 replies

  • limited change is possible at a local level on a small scale. Years ago I discovered our local coffee supplies were from a company whose parent company happened to be a well known international tobacco company. I contacted the trust catering manager who was sympathetic to this obviously perverse situation  & switched coffee suppliers.

    On a larger scale e.g. major capital equipment, I wonder how feasible it is for NHS Trusts to buy ethicalty. Many large companies are also the least ethical, as any subscriber to Ethical Consumer can tell you. Sometimes, there is limited choice of supplier & otherwise information to inform an ethical deciision is lacking. Finally, NHS trusts will ofetn go for the lowest bidder anyway.

    If there is evidence that NHS Trusts will pay more for a major contract to have a more ethical supplier, I'd be interested to hear of it.

  • In reply to Gee Yen Shin:

    We are working with a number of organisations to embed ethical procurement into the NHS, including individual NHS Trusts as well as large purchasing collaboratives.  If the question of labour rights is not asked of your supplier it is unlikely they will look at it, but if enough people start asking, then the seller will be aware that this is something the market cares about.  

    You are right that NHS Trusts will often go for the lowest bidder; and that is where we need to introduce other measures of "value".  New legislation passed by the European Commission earlier this year makes it easier to state that labour rights is part of that "value" assessment: we now need to encourage purchasers to realise that opportunity.  We need to stand up and say that this is a core value of the NHS; yes we want economic value, but we will not tolerate abuse of labour rights along the way.  It is important to remember that ethical trade does not usually mean increased cost.  Decades of experience from private sector organisations shows that ethical trade processes actually collapse supply chains, reduce worker turnover, and improve productivity and quality: changes that mean ethical trade is actually often either cost neutral or cheaper.  Several authorities in the industry  have told me that the only reason that "fair trade" tea costs more, or used to cost more, is because consumers are prepared to pay more: it actually costs less to produce.

    This is all about changing the market, and it is the purchaser and consumer that holds the power.  Individual trusts may have limited influence, but the more voices that are heard, the more it sounds like a chorus.

    Mahmood Bhutta

    Founder, BMA Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group

  • In reply to Mahmood Fazal Bhutta:

    Amelia Martin, on behalf of Medsin UK, has just published an excellent blog on ethical procurement in the medical students' group - read it here