Best practice in procurement

The guidance presented here is a reminder about best practice in procuring this kind of IT solution. It has been prepared by the national Commercial and Procurement Hub commissioned by NHS England to support primary care IT procurement such as online consultations, with advice, guidance and tools.

CCGs are able to access expert advice directly from the hub (contact commercial.procurementhub@nhs.net or england.digitalprimarycare@nhs.net) and will have access to a DPS “framework”. This provides up-to-date information about products meeting appropriate standards, assures value for money and reduces the time taken for CCGs to procure solutions.

General principles

Each CCG is required to comply with its standing financial instructions (SFIs), or equivalent. SFIs set out in detail the CCGs financial responsibilities, policies and procedures (including schemes of delegation), deviation and unauthorised breaches are reportable to NHS England. CCGs must ensure that technology procurements comply with all relevant NHS and Government Digital Service standards. As statutory bodies governed by public law, CCGs are required to comply with public procurement law and statutory guidance issued by central government.

For procurements that will (or are likely to) exceed the threshold(s) in the EU Directives, an EU compliant procurement process should be undertaken. For CCGs the threshold for procuring supplies or services is £164,176 (ex VAT). This is the aggregated value (i.e. the total contract value, not just an annual value). A CCG may be able to utilise a negotiated procedure (without prior publication in the OJEU) to award a contract to a supplier in limited circumstances. Existing contracts can be modified but only in line with the Regulations (known as permitted changes).

For a below EU threshold procurement SFIs will require a competitive process but SFIs normally include a waiver provision to allow for (justified) awards without the need to undertake a competitive process. There may be an existing framework agreement available which can allow for a simplified and legally compliant procurement process (or even a direct award to a single supplier) for contracts above the EU procurement threshold. CCGs are encouraged to seek professional procurement advice/support.

As the market for online consultation systems is evolving (and the fund is time limited) CCGs should consider carefully their procurement strategy, local specification and commercial terms for example:

  • contract length;
  • provisions for continuing system development;
  • clinical safety, standards and liability;
  • the requirement for software escrow agreements.

The national Commercial and Procurement Hub will be available to offer advice and guidance if required.