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Understanding the NHS Procurement Process

Procurement plays a crucial role in delivering high-quality patient care while ensuring value for money. As demands on procurement grow and expectations for efficiency rise, organizations must be equipped to meet these challenges.The NHS tendering process can often appear complex and overwhelming, making it difficult to know where to start. Public sector tenders are procured through various routes based on the contract’s value.

NHS Procurement Process

Types of Procurement Procedures

The healthcare services of the NHS are primarily commissioned by local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). Each CCG represents a collection of local Primary Care Networks and GP practices. These clinically-led, locally-based NHS bodies are responsible for procurement and commissioning in their respective areas. The services that are commissioned by the CCGs in England account for approximately two-thirds of the entire budget allocated to NHS England.

The primary goods acquired through the NHS tendering process encompass a variety of medicines and equipment. These can be categorised into several key areas. Firstly, single-purchase capital equipment, such as X-ray machines, a surgical retractor instrument and hospital beds, forms a significant portion of the procurement. Secondly, consumables are essential for the daily operations of healthcare facilities, ranging from paper towels to bedsheets. Lastly, personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial for ensuring the safety of both healthcare workers and patients. Each of these categories plays a vital role in the effective delivery of healthcare services.

How the Procurement Process Works

Commissioners often begin by issuing a Prior Information Notice (PIN) to inform potential suppliers of an impending procurement. This notice can be released 2 to 12 months before the actual procurement begins, with a typical lead time of less than six months. During this stage, commissioners may request potential bidders to express their interest, allowing suppliers ample time to prepare for their bids.

The process usually begins with a per-qualification questionnaire (PQQ), sometimes referred to as a selection questionnaire (SQ). This document assesses whether they are qualified, suitable, and capable of delivering the contract. It is generally divided into three sections: supplier information, grounds for exclusion, and selection questions covering financial standing and technical capacity. This stage is essential for filtering out suppliers who cannot fulfil the contract requirements, thereby saving time and resources for both bidders and commissioners.

After passing the PQQ stage, suppliers receive an Invitation to Tender (ITT). This critical document outlines how the bid should be structured, including word counts and specific requirements. The ITT details the scoring criteria for each question, the procurement timetable, deadlines for clarification questions, deadlines for responses, the contract award date, and the service commencement date. It also includes contractual documents such as the conditions of the contract, a non-collusion statement, the service specification, and technical questions that bidders must answer. Adhering to the specified word and page counts is crucial, as failure to do so can result in disqualification.

Selecting the Winner


Following the evaluation of written submissions, some bidders may be invited to present their proposals or participate in interviews. This stage is particularly common in procurement involving software solutions, where commissioners need to see a real-life demonstration of the proposed solution. These presentations can contribute to the overall scoring of the bid.

Once the preferred bidder is selected, the NHS tendering process allows for a cooling-off period. This allows any or indeed all of the unsuccessful bidders to challenge the tendering process if they suspect any irregularities. The outcome of the tender is not publicly announced until this period has concluded, ensuring a fair and transparent procurement process.



James is a freelance writer , with a background in the publishing sector.
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