Lifetime of Achievement: Jacqui Rock

By Neil Perry & Sean Ashcroft
NHS Chief Commercial Officer Jacqui Rock has seen first-hand landmark procurement healthcare changes in the UK

For the past five years, Jacqui Rock has been at the commercial heart of both the UK government and one of the nation’s most cherished institutions: the National Health Service (NHS).

In her current role, as Chief Commercial Officer at NHS England – which she took up in January 2022 – works alongside NHS procurement and estates professionals to build a world-class commercial function for the NHS.

She joined the NHS after more than four years in key commercial roles for the government. First she was director for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation at the Ministry of Defence, and was a member of the Cabinet Office Commercial Function, a cross-government network that procures goods and services for the government. This saw her lead on major programmes for the Army, Navy, Royal Air Force and Joint Forces Command​. 

Rock then moved on to become Chief Commercial Officer, Head of Corporate Services and Transition Director at the UK Health Security Agency, which provides intellectual, scientific and operational leadership at national and local level to make the nation's health secure.​ There, as a member of the NHS Test and Trace Executive Team, Rock was a driving force behind innovation and technology development in the supply chain. 

Her spell with the UK government followed 30 years in the financial services industry, where she held multiple executive positions in companies including Credit Suisse, JP Morgan, and Barclays. It was at Bank of America Merrill Lynch that Rock made the move into procurement, buying goods and managing risk for a budget of US$22bn across 42 countries. 

Rock has witnessed seminal procurement changes

Rock has witnessed first-hand some seismic changes to procurement in big UK institutions, including the formation of the Government Commercial Function (GCF) in 2015.

“This was introduced with the aim of improving the commercial capabilities of the Civil Service,” she says. “It marked a step change for procurement. The ambition of the GCF is to make significant savings for the taxpayer and deliver improved public services, while supporting their people to develop the knowledge and skills needed to compete successfully in commercial environments on behalf of the government.

She says the Carter Review of Operational Productivity in the NHS was another key moment in the journey of NHS procurement. 

“Findings in the review changed the way we work and have been key in informing the future ambitions of NHS Commercial,” she says.    

Another notable procurement landmark was the introduction of the NHS Central Commercial Function, which she describes as “a key milestone that allows us to streamline the NHS procurement practice, and bring significant benefits to the taxpayer”.

And of course, big procurement roles bring sizable challenges. “One challenge has been raising the importance of commercial and procurement excellence, and demonstrating the opportunities and value it brings at the top table, “ both in the private and the public sector,” says Rock.

She adds: “Often, procurement and commercial is located within the finance function, yet commercial and procurement professionals are usually responsible for around a quarter of spend, so I feel really passionately that procurement should be recognised in its own right.”

In a long career of many highs, Rock says that among her proudest achievements is to have transitioned from financial services into the UK government, the Ministry of Defence and now, the NHS. 

“I have met some incredible people over the years,” she says. “I am proud to have been both a mentor and mentee over the years. I’m also really proud of the transition I made from the financial services sector to government.” 

“I’m proud to have been mentored by fantastic colleagues”

Rock adds that she is also proud to have been mentored by “several fantastic colleagues over the years”, adding: “ It’s always wonderful to learn from others, but also to share personal lessons learned and experiences with those keen to progress in commercial careers.” 

Of her current role, Rock says she is most proud of “making a huge difference in commercial practice”. 

She adds: “We’ve introduced the Central Commercial Function, the efficiencies programme and the Strategic Framework for NHS Commercial, and we’re really starting to move the dial on commercial capability and the way that we work. This will make a huge difference to our people, to patients and to the taxpayer.” 

With her vast experience in procurement, Rock is ideally placed to offer advice to colleagues and associates looking to carve a career in the profession.

“There are four pieces of advice I give to those early in their procurement journey,” she says. “These are to take risks, to be curious and to always remember that relationships are everything. You need to foster these and stay in touch with your contacts. She adds that hard work is also key. “It might seem simple to say, but it’s taken me 40 years to get where I am today, and I’ve done so by never taking my foot off the gas. 

Changes on horizon for NHS procurement

Looking to the future, Rock sees changes on the horizon for procurement in the NHS. 

“We’re expecting the introduction of the Procurement Act in October 2024, which will transform the way we procure in the NHS,” she says. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally change NHS commercial behaviours and deliver market-led value.”

She adds: “The Act gives us the commercial flexibility needed to innovate in our most challenging supplier markets, and to find new ways of making high-value deals for the NHS in our most complex categories.

Rock explains that this will “necessitate significant changes to NHS procurement practices”, adding: “We’re supporting the NHS commercial community to prepare for this, so that we can make the most of it, and I can see it making a real difference over the next five to 10 years.”

Rock also points out that AI and MedTech “is the future of patient care”. She says: “The first AI technologies were approved for use on the NHS in August, with nine different programmes recommended for use in treating cancer patients with radiotherapy. 

“Scores more are being used in clinical trials, for everything from assessing brain damage to stroke patients to analysing blood flow through hearts of patients with coronary conditions. 

“I see procurement playing a huge role in how these cutting-edge technologies are rolled out. Innovation and AI pathways are in development currently, to ensure that we are bringing innovation into the NHS, and commercial is an intrinsic part of the design. 

“We have committed and made progress to streamline the way in which MedTech is assessed, assured, procured and rolled out, so that products can reach the frontline and our patients at speed and at scale.”

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