Primary Care Organisations (PCOs) are responsible for commissioning local NHS Dental Services in England and Wales according to the needs of their local populations.
Local Area Health Teams (England) or Health Boards (Wales) advertise an invitation for prospective bidders to express an interest in bidding for the available activity. The bid will need to demonstrate that the provider can deliver high quality services within a business focused environment.
The timescales involved often last for many months. Weeks of frantic activity alternate with weeks of waiting to hear the outcome of each stage, and you have no guarantee of success. Therefore it is crucial you are aware of opportunities and, as a result, can quickly react to working on the bid and engage with suitable support, if required, to give you the best chance possible of securing the work.
NHS Primary Dental Care Arrangements
Dental practices in England and Wales can only deliver NHS Dental Services if they have a formal contract with their PCO: a General Dental Services (GDS) contract or a Personal Dental Services (PDS) agreement or a variation.
Funding for Commissioning
PCOs have a fixed budget for commissioning primary care dentistry which rarely increases and is often exhausted by existing contracts. Funding will become available if existing contracts end – for example, where fixed-term contracts have expired, a dentist has left the NHS or retired, or the contract has been terminated. If a PCO identifies a local need for new dental services additional funding may become available. As a consequence, obtaining an NHS contract is extremely competitive.
The Tendering Process
Tendering provides PCOs with a transparent mechanism for commissioning NHS primary dental care services; to promote competition, provide rigorous analysis of competing providers and improve value for money for the NHS.
The main stages of the tendering process are:
- Notice of Procurement (the advert)
- Expression of Interest (EOI)
- Selection Questionnaire (SQ) (previously known as PQQ)
- Invitation to Tender (ITT)
- Interview and Presentation
- Contract Award
While the full process can take up to 12 months, each stage is likely to have a short response time and you will need to undertake research, undertake audits and gather evidence to allow you to respond fully to the many tender questions.
- Expressions of Interest within two weeks of the advert appearing.
- The Selection Questionnaire (SQ) stage (four to six weeks)
- The Invitation to Tender stage (ITT) (four to six weeks)
Shortlisted bidders may be asked to give a presentation and/or attend a clarification interview within two weeks of notification.
Notice of Procurement
When a PCO has decided to commission services, it will invite bidders to submit tender by placing an advert on one or more of the following platforms:
- Contracts Finder (https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk/)
- Find a Tender (https://www.gov.uk/find-tender)
- British Dental Journal (BDJ) (https://www.nature.com/bdj/)
- LDC website
- PCO website
The PCO may also write directly to existing dental practices in the area.
Expression of Interest (EOI)
Responding to the notice of procurement advert, begins the process of tendering for an NHS contract. Your response (‘expression of interest’) informs the PCO that you may bid for the available contract and gains you access to the procurement documents that have been published which may include; a Memorandum of Information, the Service Specification, the Selection Questionnaire (SQ) (previously PQQ), and outline what evidence you will need to provide/obtain to ensure that you are eligible to take part in the tendering process.
The Memorandum of Information provides an overview of the procurement scheme and its objectives. It outlines the procurement process, the commercial framework and governance and administration requirements.
The Service Specification sets out expectations, quality levels, premises standards, locations, the expected health gains, the quality outcomes, patient pathways, key performance indicators and activity volumes.
The SQ evaluates the capacity, capability, experience and eligibility of potential bidders. Importantly, it also considers minimum levels of economic and financial standing and technical or professional ability. You will normally have to submit your response within a month.
Drafting and Checking
Your responses to the SQ and/or ITT need to be thorough. As you will only have a limited amount of time, make sure that your policies, marketing plan, staff handbook and any other supporting documents are ready as soon as possible. Read through what the contracting authority is looking for, they will ask questions that you will need to respond too, and ensure that you only give them the information/answer they are looking for.
Get someone to check your SQ and/or ITT before submitting them – another pair of eyes is always helpful, no matter how rigorous you have been. We highly recommend this is done by someone who has not been involved with producing the bid response and this can be someone else within your organisation, a friend/family member or a specialist organisation/consultant.
Interview and Presentation
After submitting your bid response, you may be invited to attend an interview and as a result may be asked to make a presentation about your bid. You will know if this is going to happen when you get access to bid documents so will not come completely out of the blue.
A presentation and interview usually consists of a 15 to 30 minute presentation followed by a formal question-and-answer session. The interview panel is likely to consist of the dental commissioning manager, a finance representative, a clinical expert and, in Wales, a senior health board representative. The commissioning team may also invite external assessors to join the panel.
The timescale for the presentation and interview can be tight and presentations must be submitted in advance. Again, the potential dates for the presentation will be outlined in the documents you are given access to, so make sure you are aware of these dates and that individuals involved in the bid are available on the days that have been outlined as potential dates.
Following the presentation and interview, the commissioning panel will make an award decision (which, in England, will need to be ratified by NHS England). The commissioning team will prepare a tender report that describes both the tender process and how the award decision was arrived at. The report you receive will be your feedback on your submitted bid and will let you know what scores you achieved on what questions etc. giving you guidance on where to improve for future bids. The report will also show where you ranked against other suppliers and will show you how you compared against the winning bidder. This information is crucial to ensure you improve your submissions for future bids and even more so if you were unsuccessful. An official notice will then be published online giving details of who has won the tender – this will be published on Contracts Finder and OJEU.
There is then a 10-day standstill period during which unsuccessful bidders can ask for additional post-tender feedback or, if they believe their bid has been unfairly marked or the tender process was flawed, to challenge the award decision.
Value March Dental Services Support
Value Match have supported several successful bids for NHS Dental Services throughout the UK. We have worked closely with Dental Services to provide them with expert support which has covered; Bid Writing, Bid Reviewing and Bid Training. Within our Bid Support offering we have a Consultants who have worked in the NHS as Buyers and individuals who have procured for Dental Services in various parts of the UK.
If you would like further information on how to bid for Dental Services in England and Wales please get in touch here.
For further information, contact Lindsay Rosul
T: 07702 823 648