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A two-way conversation with NHS Supply Chain: Food

Thursday 28 March 2019

NHS Supply Chain: Food forum Leeds February 2019

It’s been a busy couple of months for the NHS Supply Chain: Food team. Since January they have been touring the country meeting NHS catering and procurement professionals at the newly formed Food Forums.

Held in six regions across England, the forums were set up to increase engagement with catering staff and they certainly achieved that aim. Over 125 people attended the meetings representing 55 different NHS trusts, from the first one in Bristol to the latest in Leeds. Members of NHS Supply Chain: Food were on hand to answer questions, present new ideas and listen to challenges raised.

Stephen Foulser, Customer Director, NHS Supply Chain attended the Birmingham Food Forum. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for trusts to engage with NHS Supply Chain: Food to hear about the new initiatives we’re working on and how they can save money.”

The aim of the forums is to establish a two-way conversation and there was no shying away from difficult topics. The very first question asked at each forum by Rona Miranda, Client Account Director, NHS Supply Chain: Food, was: “What is your biggest challenge with food procurement?”

The majority of the challenges were addressed as part of the standard agenda, with more complex topics taken away for further consideration and feedback at the next series of forums.

Key messages and engagement

One of the key messages from NHS Supply Chain: Food during the forums was the drive to rationalise the number of products available and build volume within a smaller range. This will enable NHS Supply Chain to leverage the scale of the NHS and achieve better prices.

This work has already started with the Hot Beverage and Vending Consumables framework which goes live in May. At the Birmingham forum Fergus Meehan, Category Development Manager, NHS Supply Chain: Food said, “We have rationalised over 440 SKUs (stock keeping units) to 138, supporting an improved range and pricing. Did you know that there used to be 150 tea SKU’s!”

Interaction was encouraged throughout the session and workshops were held to voice the views of catering professionals on the following topics:

Collaborative procurement - Communication and information - Overcoming challenges

During the collaborative procurement workshop, discussion soon turned to aggregating volume to achieve greater savings. The general opinion at the Birmingham forum was that trusts would like to do this but the challenge would be securing consensus on product specifications. There was a keenness to achieve this on a regional level, with support, before looking at it nationally. The forums were seen by attendees as the perfect vehicle for product rationalisation and specification discussions.

The Newcastle forum even featured a product rationalisation session on bread - with samples available to try and robust discussion around the desired specifications. After plenty of discussions, such as the number of slices in the loaf, the varying requirements of the product, whether it’s being used for sandwiches or toast, trusts left the forum with an agreed specification that NHS Supply Chain: Food can take to an eAuction to secure the best price.

After a busy day of discussions, the forums came to an end. Sewellyn Douglass-James, Facilities Manager, Worcestershire University Hospitals Trust said, “I've had the pleasure of coming to the first meeting today. I found it very interesting and I’m looking forward to working with caterers around the West Midlands and further afield. I’m hoping to get better prices, better support and better service.”

How to take part

The regional Food Forums will be held on a quarterly basis with the next series taking place in June. The forums are free to attend and open to all NHS catering and procurement professionals. The Account Management team from NHS Supply Chain: Food will be inviting all their contacts. To find out more or to register your interest, please either contact your NHS Supply Chain: Food Account Manager or email


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