Hospitals are wasting around £500 million a year due to wide variations in how they buy basic items, research has suggested.
Some trusts are paying 50% more than others for the same medical equipment and other supplies, while the whole process is not good value for money, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
Even within individual hospitals, purchasing involves buying lots of different types of the same product.
Some 61 NHS trusts bought 21 types of A4 paper, 652 types of medical gloves and 1,751 cannulas, which are used for withdrawing or inserting fluid from a patient.
One trust bought 13 types of glove while another bought 177 types, the study found.
Overall, 61 trusts issued more than 1,000 orders each per year for A4 paper alone.
The NAO predicts that, for just four high-volume products, around £7 million in administration costs could be saved if the number of orders was reduced to the level achieved by the best 25% of trusts.
Most NHS trusts fall outside of the Government’s control, and this will soon become all under new NHS reforms.
The report said: “There is therefore no mechanism to secure commitment by 165 separate hospital trusts to purchase a single item or class of supplies, much less the hundreds of thousands of separate consumable products which the NHS uses.
“Many trusts take part in collaborative purchasing arrangements to some extent, but nevertheless, trusts are often paying more than they need to, for basic supplies.”