It is frequently a part of the development strategy to penetrate and win business within NHS markets, but many companies don’t know how to do so.
If you have outstanding products and services that are recognised elsewhere, demonstrating their benefits to the NHS can prove very difficult.
You may even have had tender success with other public and private sector organisations, but an NHS contract remains elusive. This guide makes tendering with the NHS a little clearer and highlights some of the key things to do to win an NHS contract.
Key to becoming an NHS supplier is a deep understanding of exactly what the authority is looking for. Their aims and objectives, how they are motivated and how they themselves are set up to deliver their services are the underlying indicators for any contract award. Identifying the challenges and issues that need fixing, and how awarding a contract to your business will solve problems for the NHS should therefore become the core of your tender offer.
Having identified a good business-fit opportunity, a comprehensive understanding of the tender documents is essential
This includes the supplier questionnaire, specification, contractual requirements, terms and conditions and submission evaluation processes. To avoid wasting time, an assessment of any potential show-stoppers is crucial.
For example, do the bidder instructions dictate any minimum turnover levels, ISO registration or regulatory body accreditation e.g. CQC? Can the business quickly fix any deficiencies to ensure a compliant bid, or does it need to reconsider the bid-decision? If bidder policies are required to be evidenced, it is commonly the case that they must be of a standard that mirrors that of the NHS. A tender may be rejected if policy or procedural documents are not fit for purpose.
Pre-qualification questionnaires will include a requirement to provide up to 3 references and a description of the contract. Always use the description section to provide a full and comprehensive explanation of what the business provides. This will set you apart from bidders that merely give a one-liner.
If your assessment of the tender documents is positive, it’s time to plan and structure the bid and consider the pricing.
Selling your business to the commissioning NHS authority will involve writing responses to ‘method statements’ covering a range of subjects.
The detail within the authority’s questions will depend upon the particular goods or services being procured, but they generally follow a common NHS theme and can require bidders to respond to questions around:
- how your business will deliver the service; how you will ensure quality and continual improvement?
- how will you ensure compliance of your staff, systems and processes?
- what you will do to ensure business continuity in the event of an incident?
- what are your clinical governance procedures?
- how do you manage infection control and prevention?
- what environmental management processes are in place?
The NHS authority will score each tender using evaluation criteria published in the tender documents. This may sound obvious but it’s important to answer the method statement questions by understanding what the question is asking and not by telling the buyer what you think you want to tell them.
When creating a method statement response, it’s important to remember that the NHS wants suppliers to demonstrate robust processes that put the patient at the centre of their ethos. Your business will therefore need to demonstrate it has the right infrastructure and procedures to reduce risk and support care provision e.g. how staff pre-screening, selection, safer recruitment, training and retention processes ensure your workforce meets the NHS’s required standards.
This goes for flooring contractors and stationery suppliers as well as for ambulance services and nursing agencies.
The NHS aims to ensure quality of care and reduce risk and expects suppliers to help them to do this, so bidders are expected to have the ability to effectively manage their performance and put systems in place if standards fall.
To fully demonstrate your capacity to deliver the contract successfully, you’ll therefore need to show how the business manages and monitors service delivery and the processes you have in place for refining, acting on issues or failures and continually improving.
In answering the method statement questions, maximum scores can be achieved by fully addressing each element of the question, putting the focus of responses wherever appropriate on patient care, risk reduction and mitigation, managing performance, having effective customer communication and using established processes to address non-conformances. Scores can be further enhanced by telling the NHS authority how you will add value to the contract.
This could be achieved through volume efficiencies, providing higher grade products at same cost or using innovative resources to service the contract. Don’t include irrelevant information or marketing material. Do use evidence and examples to support each answer. Reference practical instances of how you successfully delivered a similar solution to a previous customer.
Use a relevant case study that is specific to the authority’s question to support the answer. Evidencing how the business effectively delivers compliant goods or services and value for money, using examples from previous success will maximise tender-winning potential.