Gavin Bennett, our Associate Director of Procurement for NHS England, discusses collaboration and market engagement and its role in delivering commissioning that is patient-centred, demonstrably good and is value for money in our latest blog for NHS Voices.
At the heart of NHS commissioning is the desire to deliver value for money – the best outcomes for patients for the investments we make. This desire often results in competitive tendering, but a competitive process is just one option in a spectrum of interventions that can be used to acquire valuable and sustainable services.
Procurement can help you define the right approach to commissioning and build a case for change in line with your strategic priorities and legal requirements. Involving procurement specialists at the start of the process will enable them to work in collaboration to develop your strategy and ensure the right interventions can be considered in the most appropriate way given the market conditions.
Collaboration is key
It is increasingly common for procurement specialists to be brought in simply to manage a competitive tender process. While this can work well, it can make acquiring a service heavily reliant on your own knowledge of the market you are buying from. The pace of change we have seen in healthcare means we’re all running to keep up, particularly when it comes to digital health and specialised services. We need to be in constant dialogue with those we will rely on to deliver the outcomes we seek. In most cases, moving straight to a competitive process will give you a solution, but by collaborating with procurement advisors early on, we can work together to build a rounded methodology, choose the most suitable route to approach the market with and set out clear measures to evaluate performance.
Talking to potential providers
Once you’re into a formal competitive process, the opportunities for open dialogue are limited. But in our experience, engaging with the market at a much earlier stage in your thinking enables more effective and innovative solutions to be found. Understanding what is available allows you to hone your specification and get the best overall solution from the market. This is particularly true as we look to take advantage of emerging opportunities to deliver more integrated care for our health systems. Active market engagement also provides assurance for the decisions that need to be made. From a legal perspective, should a decision be challenged, it is essential to demonstrate you have assessed the market fully and have a robust evidence base to support your decision as part of an effective procurement process.
When open competition is not the right solution
Some element of competition is often required when commissioning services, but it isn’t always possible. In some cases, such as highly specialised services, there are situations where only one provider or partnership is able to provide a service which warrants a direct award. More commonly, there may be a handful of suitable providers eligible to deliver the service requirement. But whatever approach you take to commission services, bidders must still be assessed against stringent criteria to demonstrate positive outcomes for patients and better value for money for the taxpayer. Clinical, patient and market engagement help determine what those criteria should be.
A brave new world?
Currently, NHS contracts are subject to the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. Whether the rules remain the same or change, the focus on demonstrating good outcomes and value for money will remain. Keeping patients at the heart of commissioning will only become more important as we move to more integrated, system-wide services. Keeping pace with this change and taking advantage of new innovations must be balanced against the need for robust assurance and evidence of success.
Whether we are working with NHS providers or the private sector, collaborating effectively to clearly articulate what we need and understand the art of the possible can only enhance how we commission and deliver sustainable services for our NHS.
To read the full blog, which was written for NHS Voices, then please visit the NHS Confederation website.