Personal reflections by Professor Duncan Eaton

Register and reap the benefits

Become a member of the HCSA to gain access to a variety of support tools and services.

Join us

Winter Conference 2022 Countdown

HCSA Job Board

All the latest NHS procurement job opportunities

See the latest jobs..

Personal reflections

In April I was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma. A rare cancer. There were only 210 cases in UK in 2018. This was followed by surgery to remove the sources and I am now half way through ambulatory chemotherapy.

This journey through the NHS in South Warwickshire over the last 10 weeks, including 4 weeks as an in patient,has given me a great opportunity to observe and contemplate.

So much has been impressive including:

  • The range and quality and friendliness of the medical, nursing and other professionals, including the student nurses from Coventry University. One of whom, bless her, promised to pray for me. Noticeable was the number of countries from where they all came. Brexit please don’t damage this.
  • The electronic patient record system which meant that whoever I was with would be bang up to date with all aspects of my care and treatment.
  • The GS1 barcode patient tracking system that ensured that wherever I was in Warwick hospital ,and I went to many different places, my named nurse was aware.
  • The integration and communication with the team of community nurses and enteral feed experts who make regular visits to me at home -especially important as I have my ambulatory chemotherapy.

I took particular interest in the supply and availability of pharmaceuticals ,medical products and equipment. Many from companies I know from my life in and around the NHS for over 50 years.

Not once was I let down. Warwick Hospital clearly has an efficient supply chain. Also grateful to the chemotherapy manufacturing unit for making the formula that hopefully is killing any nasties left in me.

I heard a few interesting comments

A nurse telling me that they have changed the make of the infusion pump as the giving sets cost 70p instead of £4.40 each time.

The consultant radiologist as he prepared to plunge a biopsy needle down into my bowel muttering the layout of the procedure tray had changed apparently by something called NHS Supply Chain! I was not in a fit state to verify the accuracy of this or discuss this with him!

I only know I don’t want to have another biopsy.


I have had particular observations about the use of disposable gloves.

One of my hates over the last few years has been to hear Secretary of States and other people in the NHS hierarchy use the number of gloves stocked and used to illustrate the lack of NHS procurement efficiency.

I have no doubt there will always scope for more analysis and rationalisation but I have been astounded by the number and variety of gloves that are used to treat me. Primarily of course to avoid cross infection.

For example in just one of my procedures, changing the chemotherapy infusion, which happens regularly, the two nurses use a total of 20 different pairs of each!

So please keep the gloves coming if it keeps me safe from hospital acquired infection


It has also been time to reflect on what I know about the current state of NHS procurement.

I am encouraged and optimistic.

It has been an interesting last few years but no point in dwelling on that.

I know a lot more needs to be done and tensions still exist but there is so much to be pleased about.

We seem to be moving away from the years of competition to procure the same items to an era of cooperation and collaboration. Please let’s have more. Procurement expertise is scarce, make the most of it.

Procurement managers are moving into wider areas of involvement rather than just buying commodities and consumables. Into services and areas for example to improve patient safety.

I like the the involvement with the Academic Health Science Networks and also the Get it Right First Time initiative which is beginning to show such positive benefits in efficiency and patient outcomes.

I am encouraged that procurement managers are now developing relationships with suppliers. So much can be gained from a mature dialogue.

I really welcome the real investment in internal NHS supply chains underpinned by GS1 identification codes and the considerable advances in IT.

A personal view is this can often save more money than savings on prices.


The development and intelligent use of the management information from the price comparison tools must continue to produce results.

These are just some of the developments that give me cause to be pleased and optimistic. Thank you to all the NHS procurement professionals involved.

I believe there are two areas which could now make a difference.

The emergence of a leader for the NHS procurement profession.

Not at the top of a new hierarchy but someone who is respected and can show leadership. Probably positioned within whatever settles down at the top of the NHS at. national level.

I know who I would choose for this post!


My second wish would be for much greater investment in management development of NHS procurement professionals at all levels.

It is beginning to happen but much more is required.

HCSA continues to play its part and has ambitious plans to do a great deal more within its limited resources but investment is needed.

Perhaps there are opportunities for partnerships with national healthcare think tanks?


I look forward to being back amongst you in the near future


Duncan Eaton

Deputy Chair of Trustees