Factors influencing procurement behaviour and decision-making: an exploratory qualitative study in a UK healthcare provider

Harriet Boulding*, Saba Hinrichs-Krapels

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Background: In 2016 the UK Department of Health and Social Care published the results of a comprehensive review of efficiency in hospitals, identifying “unwarranted variation” in procurement (or purchasing) practices for materials, supplies and devices. Addressing this variation in materials and supplies procurement practice has been identified as particularly important for creating efficiencies in health service delivery. However, little is known about the behaviour and experiences of front-line individuals who make these procurement decisions, which has implications for the development of strategies to improve efficiency. The objective of this study is to improve understanding of the factors influencing procurement behaviour and decisions among requisitioners who use an internal electronic procurement portal for medical supplies and equipment, and identify areas where efficiency could be improved. Methods: Qualitative semi-structured individual interview study, following approximately 70 h of exploratory observations on site. The study context was a large London National Health Service (NHS) healthcare provider (the Trust), where we focussed primarily on purchases managed by a large hospital. Participants were drawn from requisitioners from multiple directorates across the Trust (n = 15; of these n = 2 clinical staff members, n = 13 non-clinical). Results: Four factors stood out in our analysis as directly affecting procurement decisions: (1) a high level of variation in electronic purchasing and inventory management procedures throughout the Trust, (ii) an inaccurate and cumbersome search facility on the internal electronic procurement platform, exacerbated by poor IT skills training and support (iii) an inefficient purchase approvals system and (iv) multiple working sites and cluttered environments. We observed that these factors led requisitioners to employ a variety of strategies or so-called ‘workarounds’ to overcome the challenges they encountered, including stockpiling, relying on internal and supplier relationships, by-passing procedures to save time, purchasing outside existing agreements to save cost, and (re) delegating purchasing responsibilities among requisitioner staff - which both addressed and created difficulties. Conclusions: Working with the assumption that staff ‘workarounds’ indicate where main issues lie, we offer four possible explanations to why they occur: (a) to maintain services and prepare for future care requirements, (b) to save on costs for the organisation, (c) to develop skills and development in purchasing and (d) to break silos and work collaboratively. These four explanations help provide initial starting points for improving efficiencies in health supplies’ procurement processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1087
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Efficiency
  • Electronic procurement
  • Health services research
  • Health systems
  • Hospital procurement
  • Hospital purchasing
  • Materials management
  • Requisitioner behaviour


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