Competitive business procurement and how to win an NHS dental contract

shutterstock_114687277Having been awarded a seven figure dental contract last year following a procurement, Jeff Sherer gives some insight into the world of the dental tender.

I remember the days of the old dental contract where a dentist could set up shop wherever they pleased.

The number of patients taken on by the practice could vary depending on the capacity of the dentist and the demands from the local public.

NHS dentists were, in a way, able to work in the style that most suited them without fear of clawbacks, UDAs (units of dental activity), or time limited contracts.

The creation of set contracts opened the dental world to a new concept, that of competitive business procurement.

We have all seen examples of this in other industries such as Camelot being awarded the National Lottery and the Olympic Games security contract going to G4S (and the fiasco that surrounded it).

Make no mistake, embarking on a procurement is a tough process.

It challenges you to find a solution that will provide high quality dental care in a set geographical area, and offer the best value for money.

Often the whole procurement can take over six months, with several crucial stages.

Who ever said winning would be easy?

Dental procurements are advertised in a variety of different dental publications and involve the supplying of a memorandum of information.

This is a long document that sets the scene of what the local NHS area team require, why they want the service, and some financial information about it (eg how many UDAs are potentially available).

The first part of your journey is with you being asked to provide an expression of interest.

This is the easiest part, you supply your up-to-date contact details and away you go.

This is soon followed by the PQQ (pre qualification questionnaire).

You have to fill in a questionnaire to see if you can even be considered for the procurement.

This document can vary in length but will involve you providing some information on a wide range of topics such as your previous record in dentistry, your financial security, your clinical governance compliance.

From all the PQQs received, the area team will filter out the weakest respondents and then select the top few to be invited to the ITT (invitation to tender).

It’s a good feeling being short listed, it’s like being invited to an exclusive party.

The ITT is by far the longest and most technically demanding stage.

This is what separates out who will eventually be awarded the contract.

The ITT will expect details on all aspects of the service you will be supplying – including your premises, workforce, information technology, health and safety and disaster planning, to name but a few.

You will also be asked on your opening times, your UDA rate and how you are going to attract new patients.

Depending on the exact nature of the procurement, some NHS area teams also combine this with a presentation and an interview.

At the end of the day there can only be one winner.

If you are fortunate enough to be selected as the preferred candidate, you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Now the real work begins, delivering on all the promises you made during the ITT stage.

If you didn’t do enough to win this time, don’t take it too personally – treat it as a learning exercise and use the feedback to improve next time.

Don’t forget you are competing against some serious players.

Many of the dental corporates have teams of people who specialise in just working on procurement.

Despite this, it is possible for the humble general dental practitioner to win, and as the saying goes; if I can do it, you can do it.

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