The first meeting was held on 7 March 2023 with Jacqui Rock and her team, where there were a number of issues raised on the back of the NHS supplier event which took place in November 2022, which had over 200 suppliers and stakeholders from Government and the NHS. This event consisted of 3 themes – making the NHS easier to do business with smarter ways to deliver better healthcare, and the NHS becoming a greener and more sustainable health service.
This meeting was led by David Williams NHSE (Director of Procurement) with support from Helen Fisher NHSE (Supplier Engagement).
NHS England previously committed to developing a programme to address issues as they arose, and forums to take forward actions and improvements. They are keen to transform the way they engage with suppliers, trade bodies and the wider industry and say that they want to work in partnership to understand the challenges and solutions.
They have held a series of roundtables to develop their NHS Supplier agenda and how they want to improve the ways of working.
These topics discussed included.
- Procurement skill and capability across the NHS
- Sustainability and Social Value.
- Supplier Engagement
The roundtables identified the following priorities –SMEs, Large/ Strategic suppliers, and Trade Bodies.
For SME’s they have committed to an SME Advisory Group, and SME Action Plan for best practice and tackling immediate priorities such as Social Value, increasing awareness of SME agenda and supporting SMEs in times of challenge.
For Large/ Strategic suppliers, they have committed to improving supplier relationships, buying and framework consolidation and will be targeting efficiencies – aka savings and cost reductions.
For Trade Bodies, they have committed to working closely with trade bodies to develop guidance, support and best practice in relation to Social Value requirements to gain greater value to the community and environment from the established policy, enhancing procurement skills and capabilities by working with trade bodies to support projects to improve standards in procurement and establishing collaborative working groups with trade associations for specific sectors to understand the challenges that are specific to each sector.
The meeting then went on to inform of updates and activities since the last meeting with discussion and debate from the trade associations.
Social Value – 1 year on.
NHSE recognise that social value requirements are interpreted differently across the NHS, this means that there are variations in how social value policy is applied, particularly around proportionality and relevance, bidders struggle with the concept of additionality, bidders also experience frustration as buyer’s expectations are misaligned. SMEs struggle with additionality when it is asked for locally, but they are not local to the buyer, social value tender evaluations are inconsistent and rarely measured or followed up on during contract delivery.
These challenges lead to social value not delivering as intended through the NHS and being inconsistent. The NHS England hypothesis is that there is opportunity to scale the value to the community through health spend to reduce variation in the applications of social value whilst accommodating local circumstances and giving bidders the tools to improve the quality of their tender submissions and buyers the tools to realise social value through procurement.
- Improve and expand guidance offered to buyers and bidders.
- Measure KPIs that focus on delivering additional value.
- Offer learning and support materials for buyers and bidders based on knowledge from skilled and experiences resources from within and outside the Heath and Care sector.
Issues raised in previous meetings relating to bidding have been identified as timing – 4 weeks is too short from an ITT release deadline to be able to deliver a meaningful response, the NHS needs a fuller understanding of regulatory barriers to delivering on some specific and timeframes and having transparency and questions that have been part of market engagement allows people to understand and prepare.
Local relevance is difficult for suppliers not based in the regions that they arise; the policy encourages a place-based approach and social value puts local spend and tackling health equalities at the forefront of contract discussions and the policy has the potential to strengthen relationships. Bidders’ experience is that there is some improvement in questioning, flexibility in questions is important to accommodate SMEs and alignment in local and national drivers is required.
NHS England are developing an SME action plan through an SME advisory Group; the intention is to have a draft document available for their November Supplier Forum (SAVE THE DATE 16 November).
The aim encourages the NHS family to adopt the objectives and for NHS England to lead by example in delivering the actions within the plan. The group’s priorities are to better engage, communicate and learn from the SME community, improve the visibility of the NHS opportunities, and encourage better participation in commercial activity. To leverage the innovation power of SMEs for the benefit of the NHS and to maximise opportunity in social value.
This group will provide a focus for ongoing dialogue and deliver real change to SMEs. Members of the group were asked for their highest priorities that will make the greatest difference to their businesses.
- Further educate and support buyers in applying social value.
- Agree a set of standardised questions – possibly by category.
- Develop social value training packages – subsidised training with certification.
- Mechanism to flag issues (inconsistency, unfairness, transparency etc) included targeted support to NHS organisations struggling to meet the standards.
- Provide a route to raise issues impacting SMEs’ ability to continue in business.
- Form a sub-group that has focus on what is “Mayday” in and out of scope and how to communicate with the system.
- Clarify and cascade – rules and regulations to follow.
- Data driven understanding of the root causes of problems such as lack of prompt payment and increased awareness of interpretation of the rules.
It was agreed that Trade Bodies could add value in category councils and strategies, they can provide guidance, support and expertise in the design of the procurement requirements and they can develop an approach to get Trade Bodies involved to share best practice and guidance.
BIVDA was asked to provide a ‘who we are flyer’ and a list of meetings that we would like them to attend for future engagement and identify which meetings would be operational or strategic, which includes our Mid-Year General Meeting (SAVE THE DATE 19 October) and our Procurement Working Party (SAVE THE DATE 12 September).