Five key tips on navigating NHS procurement

Jo Dempsey, Commercial Enterprise Lead at Health Innovation East, offers five tips for introducing your innovation to NHS procurement.

Published: 22nd July 2021

Approaching the NHS can be the hardest part of your innovation journey. Read our tips.

At Health Innovation East we believe that health is improved by great ideas, but great ideas only make an impact when they are put into practice.

Knowledge is power and understanding the way NHS procurement works will help you get your foot in the door when it’s time to talk about your innovation.

You will need to establish a solid business relationship with the relevant NHS trust procurement team, who will be key to getting your innovation successfully adopted. Here are some tips to get you started, based on interviews with procurement managers at twelve Eastern region NHS acute trusts:

Tip 1: Know who you need to pitch to.

There are various levels of NHS and social care procurement in the UK including at regional and national level. For procurements valued lower than £118,133 excluding VAT, sellers interact directly with NHS trusts, whose processes are all different. Higher value procurements are processed by Regional Procurement Hubs and at national level. Innovators may also wish to approach third party organisations that specialise in selling devices and medical supplies wholesale to numerous trusts.

Tip 2: Engage with procurement early on.

Whether your product is a disruptive technology or a replacement like-for-like product, the procurement department (or purchasing or buying, as it is sometimes known) should be your first point of contact. If you do not already have a clinical contact, procurement will direct you to the relevant people. Even if you already have a clinical contact, they should be approached simultaneously as they are crucial in streamlining the process.

Tip 3: Be targeted with your sales messaging.

Don’t send generic promotional literature to procurement teams; instead, focus on the specific benefits your innovation can bring to the trust or individual setting and its specific potential impact on the care pathway.

Tip 4: Know your offering and your competition.

Be absolutely honest about your company, product, its value proposition and who you have spoken to so far. Don’t exaggerate what you have achieved or portray your company as bigger than it is. Research the area and competing products and services, especially those already used by the trust you are approaching. Part of the procurement process involves assessing new products and services against existing or competitor ones, so you should be aware of how your innovation compares.

Tip 5: Understand the relevant procurement process.

Each trust will probably want to conduct their own product evaluation, even if the product has been peer reviewed or successfully evaluated at other trusts. Following a successful product evaluation, a business case is usually prepared by relevant managers and clinicians. In addition to a description of clinical benefits and impacts, the business case typically requires details of whole-life costs of the product, maintenance requirements and training provision. If requested, some of the content for the business case (e.g. financial impacts) may come from the company itself.

Reach out to procurement contacts if you have any queries: for example, if you are struggling to complete an online tender bid, they may be able to assist you before submission to smooth out any issues and show your bid in the best light.

Finally, be aware that neither clinical or procurement teams make the sole decision to buy a product. Instead, it is a team decision and it is likely that a business case for the product will go to an Investment Approval Committee (this varies by trust), which will also consider alternative products. Be aware that even if a trust trials your product and it is very popular with a clinician, there is still no absolute guarantee that your product will be purchased.

We’re here to help

At Health Innovation East our team of experts with in-depth understanding of the NHS, commerce and marketing allows us to identify opportunities and remove barriers for innovators. If you want to find the right approach to procurement for your business, download our comprehensive procurement toolkit below or get in touch.

Jo Dempsey Commercial Enterprise Lead at Health Innovation East
Get in touch

Joanna Dempsey, Commercial Enterprise Lead at Health Innovation East.

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Our procurement toolkit

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How does procurement work in the NHS? Find out in our toolkit.

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