The ethical procurement of healthcare products

Bangor University School of Healthcare Sciences contributed to Fairtrade Fortnight with a seminar led by Lucy Bryning, a researcher from CHEME (Centre for Health Economics and Medical Evaluation) and Jude Field, a midwifery lecturer and member of the University Fairtrade Steering Group. The seminar focused on ethical concerns surrounding the manufacturing and NHS procurement of medical supplies, such as surgical instruments, textiles and examination gloves.

Lucy Bryning, explained:

“The British Medical Association (BMA) ‘Fair Medical Trade’ campaign was used as the framework for the seminar, including the campaign’s short film ‘The Human Cost of Healthcare’. The campaign was initiated in 2007 by surgeon Dr. Mahmood Bhutta, after a visit to Pakistan highlighted the exploitative circumstances that the producers of NHS surgical instruments were often experiencing - including unsafe conditions, very low wages, and child labour.”

Jude Field added:

“A central premise of the BMA campaign is that ‘it seems paradoxical to provide healthcare using goods and services that may actually harm health because they fail to protect basic labour rights’ – a sentiment that the seminar attendees agreed with.”

The seminar also included discussion of how, partly as a result of the BMA campaign, the NHS has begun to take action to improve working conditions for producers of a range of NHS products. This has included the creation and implementation of a ‘Supplier Code of Conduct’ in 2009, and the auditable ‘Labour Standards Assurance System’ in 2012. These steps have been demonstrated to have improved the working conditions of workers in surgical instrument production in Pakistan, and are gradually being applied to other high risk product sourcing. Local success has also been achieved with the ethical sourcing of NHS Wales’ uniforms.

The main purpose of the seminar was to raise awareness of this cause and to encourage the continued improvement of the documented unethical working conditions. The attendees were interested to explore how our School could apply ethical trade principles to the procurement of staff and student uniforms and clinical skills equipment, raise awareness of this issue amongst students during their pre-registration training, and the potential to consider economic evaluations of healthcare products which consider the full costs of implementation.

Please contact Jude Field ( or Lucy Bryning ( if you would be interested in being involved in exploring this topic further.

For information on the BMA ‘Fair Medical Trade’ please see:

Publication date: 9 March 2017