The NHS Tendering Process Explained
Everything you need to know about the NHS tendering process
If the contract of an NHS tender matches or exceeds the OJEU threshold, it must be procured via tendering. Contracts that are lower than the OJEU threshold can be quoted directly. They can also be tendered through local authorities or Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).
Who is responsible for NHS procurement?
In England, the NHS procurement is predominantly split between several organisations:
The Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC)
The DHSC is responsible for setting the budget and objective for the NHS. They’re essentially accountable for NHS procurement.
NHS England is legally independent of the DHSC. It oversees the commissioning of NHS services and sets strategy.
Public Health England
Public Health England is an executive agency of DHSC. It’s responsible for dealing with public health emergencies.
Who commissions NHS tenders?
Local Clinical Commissioning Groups
NHS healthcare services are commissioned primarily by local CCGs. Each CCG represents a group of local Primary Care Networks and GP practices. They’re locally based, clinically-led NHS bodies that are responsible for procurement and commissioning within their local area. The services commissioned by CCGs account to roughly two-thirds of the total NHS England budget. This was an estimated £79.9 billion in 2019/20.
The Crown Commercial Service
The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is the UK’s biggest public procurement organisation. They spend over £15 billion a year on commercial solutions for their customers. They cover four broad sectors:
- Technology – digital future, network services, software & cyber and technology products and services.
- Corporate solutions – document management and logistics, financial services, fleet marcomms and research and travel.
- Buildings – construction, workplace, utilities and fuel.
- People – workforce, people services, professional services and contact centres.
The CCS often teams up with NHS Digital and other NHS stringencies to procure goods/services from various NHS frameworks. Most recently, they teamed up with NHS Digital to add 12 new consultancies to their Digital Capability for Health framework.
The NHS Supply Chain
The NHS Supply Chain are the central body that oversees the procurement of healthcare products for the NHS. They consolidate orders from over 8,000 suppliers for more than 4.5 million orders per year saving both time and money.
What does the NHS buy?
There are three general areas of procurement within the NHS:
The main goods that are bought by the NHS tendering process are medicines and equipment. They can include:
- Single purchase capital equipment – such as x-ray machines and beds.
- Consumables – covering anything from paper towels to bedsheets.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE).
The services that are procured within the NHS tendering process could be people such as cleaners, doctors or care works. They could also be put out to solve needs such as long waiting list problems.
NHS Digital controls IT procurement of software solutions and data systems. The CCS has G-Cloud and the Spark DPS which help the public sector procure IT services. Digital NHS tenders would be put out to procure software solutions to be used in hospitals.
The 5 stages of the NHS tendering process
Often commissioners will release an issue of prior information notice (PIN). This is released in advance, warning of their intention to launch an NHS procurement. It can be issued 2 – 12 months in advance of the procurement. Typically, the lead time for a PIN is less than six months. Commissioners may ask potential bidders to make an expression of interest at this stage.
SQ or PQQ
The NHS tendering process often starts with a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) also known as a selection questionnaire (SQ). They are used to establish that the potential supplier is qualified, suitable and able to deliver the contract. Typically, it’s divided into three sections:
- Potential supplier information.
- Grounds for exclusion.
- Selection questions covering financial standing and technical capacity.
Once a company has passed the PQQ, they will then be given an invitation to tender (ITT). This is a key document that a supplier should pay particular attention to. It specifies how the response should be formed giving word counts and each ITT is different. It will provide a breakdown of:
- The scoring of each question.
- Procurement timetable.
- The deadline for clarification questions.
- Deadline for responses.
- Contract award date.
- Service commencement date.
It will also include the contractual documents such as the conditions of the contract and non-collusion statement.
It will also have the service specification and technical questions that are to be answered by the bidder. They’re typically broken up into several sections depending on the services or goods being bought. The word and page counts are strict with answers expected to range from 500 – 2,000-word responses.
Presentations and interviews
Once submissions have been scored, some bidders may be invited to interview or given the opportunity to do a presentation. Presentations are often required if you are involved with the NHS tendering process for software solutions. Commissioners need to see a demonstration of the solution in real life, before signing off on the contract. This presentation may contribute to a small percentage of your overall marks.
Announcement of winner
Once the preferred bidder has been identified and selected, there is a cooling-off period. This allows unsuccessful bidders to challenge the tendering process if they feel there has been any foul play. The tender outcome will not be publicly announced until after the cooling-off period has been completed.
How the NHS tendering process is evaluated
The NHS tendering process is evaluated on both price and quality. More weighting is typically given to quality – up to 80%. Pricing accounts for the remainder. Within public sector tendering, the most economically advantageous tender (MEAT) will win the contract.
The MEAT does not mean the cheapest bid wins – the buyer is looking at more than just the price. The MEAT allows the buyer to award the contract based on aspects of the tender submission. These can include:
- Ability to deliver on time
- Customer service
- Proposed design
- Technical ability
- Environmental benefits
Each aspect can be looked at by the client independently, or in a mix with other considerations.
Healthcare tenders are often procured via frameworks agreements. Frameworks can be used to appoint multiple organisations to provide healthcare services over several years. They are used when the buyer, the NHS, is seeking to secure a supply of goods, works or services. Framework agreements are common within the NHS tendering process.
The process is similar to an average tendering contract. They often start with a PQQ then those who are successful, move onto the ITT. The buyer will issue a notice for suppliers (ITT) where they can submit a tender to provide their services. Once these have been submitted, the buyer can review them. The buyer will then create a list of approved suppliers. These suppliers will then be awarded a place on the NHS framework agreement.
Some frameworks enable you to choose a ‘Lot’. A Lot is often a specific region or service. It allows a business to work alongside other service providers on the contract. Securing a framework contract can be lucrative and place your organisation in good stead for future contracts. For example, The NHS London Procurement Partnership includes live contracts that fall within the following four categories:
- Clinical Digital Solutions
- Estates, Facilities and Professional Services.
- Medicines Optimisation and Pharmacy Procurement
Whenever the buyer has a project available, they will contact their list of pre-approved suppliers. They will often hold a mini competition to select a preferred supplier from their list. This makes the NHS tendering process a lot simpler than normal. It saves a lot of time as most information is readily available.
Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS), like framework agreements, can be worth millions of pounds. They can also run for multiple years at a time and you can apply for a DPS any time it’s open.
Where can you find NHS tenders?
If you think your business would benefit from applying for NHS tenders than Hudson Discover can help you. If you’re wondering how to track live NHS tenders, our Healthcare Tenders portal can help. It’s your one-stop-shop for all NHS tenders including framework agreements and DPS’.
What makes our Healthcare Tenders portal different?
We don’t use CPV codes. Our Opportunity Trackers manually scour hundreds of portals every day and upload them to our portal. With a subscription to Healthcare Tenders, you can view all opportunities from all UK portals in one, central, easy-to-navigate place.
What’s more, you will be assigned a dedicated Account Manager to manage your subscription. They can answer any questions you may have about the tendering process. You’ll also receive a daily email bulletin straight to your inbox, containing all NHS tenders found that day.
Here are some recent NHS tenders that were sourced on our Healthcare Tenders portal:
Alternative Provider Medical Service — Windermere and Bowness Medical Practice
NHS England and NHS Improvement North West- North West- Budget: Undisclosed
Devon CCG – Primary Medical Services in Sherford (ITT)
NHS SCW CSU- South West- Budget: £819,700
Forensic Medical Services (Children’s and Archway)
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde- Scotland- Budget: Undisclosed
Emergency Medical Service (Response) Roster Reviews
NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership-Procurement Services (hosted by Velindre University NHS Trust)- Wales- Budget: Undisclosed
General Medical Services (17J)
NHS Highland- Scotland- Budget: £300,000
We source healthcare tenders for the following sub-sectors:
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If you are struggling with the NHS tendering process – our sister company, Hudson Succeed, can help. Our Bid Writers have over 50 years of bidding experience and an 87% success rate. We offer four bid writing packages:
- Tender Mentor support.
- Tender Writing services.
- The Tender Improvement Package.
- A Tender Ready programme.
Get in touch today to find out how we can help your business grow.
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Now is the time for Healthcare Tenders.
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