Life sentence for NSW Health's e-catalogue project

The NSW Department of Health has spent 15 years struggling to develop an electronic purchasing catalogue that is still nowhere near completion.

The e-catalogue is just one of a long list of projects that have been riddled with problems since the department first began efforts to implement a standard procurement process that includes a single IT system for state-wide data collection and information sharing.

Despite launching an ambitious supply chain reform strategy (SCRS) in the year 2000 in a bid to improve purchasing processes, little progress has been made, according to a NSW Auditor General report released this week.

The SCRS was earmarked for completion in late 2003, but the report says the department is still years away from developing standardized procurement processes.

However, to date the SCRS has achieved savings of more than $60 million since 2002, which is still well below the initial target of $80 million. NSW Health has 250 hospitals across the state, which spend more than $1.3 billion annually on goods and services.

One obstacle has been a lack of financial resources according to the report which states that the e-catalogue, to be used to monitor supplies, is yet to secure the necessary funds required for it to be implemented.

In the interim, a number of area health services have implemented e-catalogues of their own, each with its own stock numbers that will need to be changed to comply with a uniform set of codes to be introduced in late 2006.

The catalogues are not linked to the NSW Health system and an interface is yet to be developed.

The auditor general's report noted that initiatives within the department are implemented at a slow pace, pointing out that a restructure announced in July 2004 was the first major change in 18 years.

Responding to the report, NSW Health director general Robyn Kruk said the audit highlights the breadth and complexity of procurement within the health system.

Kruk said while the report makes a contribution to the difficulties in reforming supply chains, "it is a pity it does not reflect that many of the progress delays have been caused by external factors", adding that the auditor general's recommendations are consistent with the department's reform agenda.

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