There is no simple solution for the procurement of medical supplies in crisis situations

The COVID-19 crisis caused unprecedented spikes in demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) and respirators worldwide, as well as disruptions in the supply chain for these products. Part I of the study 'Material Supply Strategy in a Crisis' (MaSSC), which was made public today, presents six interrelated solution approaches.

This study analysed the procurement of scarce medical materials such as mouth masks and respirators during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study sheds light on the various challenges faced by hospitals, healthcare facilities and the national initiatives - and how these challenges are interrelated. 

Thinking about purchasing possible next pandemic

Niels Uenk, director of PPRC and project leader of the study: "We wanted to know what we could learn from the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis when it comes to the procurement and logistics of scarce medical materials for healthcare organisations. Based on 60 interviews with stakeholders from organisations at the national level and from the care and cure sector, we present six coherent directions for solutions. One is to limit dependence on foreign producers by setting up production facilities closer to home, or by means of stockpiles. Pooling purchasing power (during crises) and professionalising procurement are two others. The administrative aspects have not been forgotten either, such as setting up a crisis protocol and information systems. By combining the insights of various stakeholders, we can now think about the strategies during a possible next pandemic."

From routine procurement to crisis situation: lack of trust and coordination

In stable times, the procurement of these materials, especially of PPE, is a routine operation. This changed dramatically, and the scarcity of medical materials threatened to become a bottleneck for the capacity of healthcare systems worldwide. Kees Ahaus, Professor of Health Services Management & Organisation at Erasmus University Rotterdam: "During this crisis situation, a number of things came under fire. For example, management and staff of nursing and care homes did not feel seen, or that not all organisations were willing to share their information on stocks. This has to do with trust and lack of coordination, among other things. In this study we were also critical of this and wanted to make this image visible and recognise it." Erik van Raaij, Professor of Purchasing & Supply Management in Healthcare at Erasmus University Rotterdam adds: "It turns out that during the course of the crisis there is a difference between the first phase, where you see a lot of creative strategies at the level of individual healthcare institutions and the later phases where the emphasis is more on national coordination of purchasing and inventory management."

Voorbereid zijn op toekomstige crises - Geen eenvoudige oplossingen

Preparing for future crises - No easy solutions

Ensuring an increased supply of critical materials is a clear and obvious goal, but it is far from easy to achieve.

Esmee Peters, PhD researcher Public Procurement and Crisis Management at the University of Twente and PPRC: "For example, we do not know in advance exactly which products will be needed in the next crisis, let alone when and where. Keeping stocks is also expensive, and products have expiry dates. Should we store the finished products, or the raw materials that can quickly be used to produce a wider variety of products? There are no easy solutions when it comes to the procurement of scarce medical materials in times of crisis. This applies not only to the Netherlands, but also internationally, as we will show in Part II in early 2022."

Louise Knight, Professor of Public Sector & Healthcare Procurement at the University of Twente added: "An important lesson from our research is that we need to look at the underlying procurement system; not at one organisation or one possible solution. Our research is not limited to noting key events and salient initiatives alone; it is a holistic analysis of a very complex, dynamic system. Each of the six possible solutions is only one building block in the development of a more coherent system that can better respond to future crises.

Further information

The research (consisting of two parts) is a collaboration between PPRC (Public Procurement Research Centre), University of Twente, Erasmus University Rotterdam and IRSPP (International Research Study of Public Procurement) and is financed by ZonMw as part of the COVID-19 programme. The full report can be downloaded here. / or / as an attachment.

Download the report - Material Supply Strategy in a Crisis

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Press questions can be addressed to:

Erasmus University Rotterdam: Rateb Abawi, rateb.abawi@eur.nl , 06 - 3649 5419

PPRC: Niels Uenk, niels.uenk@pprc.eu , 06 - 163 825 62.

University of Twente: Kees Wesselink, k.w.wesselink@utwente.nl, 06 - 39 18 7224

More information

Persvragen kunnen gesteld worden aan:

Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam: Rateb Abawi, rateb.abawi@eur.nl , 06 3649 5419

PPRC: Niels Uenk, niels.uenk@pprc.eu , 06 – 163 825 62.

Universiteit Twente: Kees Wesselink, k.w.wesselink@utwente.nl, +31 (0) 6 39 18 7224

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