Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care delivered a keynote speech last Thursday at the NHS Health and Care Innovation Expo. He committed to drive transformational change that reaches to the core of the NHS’s strategy for technology innovation and adoption. He even mentioned how it was going to be paid for: an extra £20 billion of funding by 2023.
All very well, but can the NHS’s current procurement processes accommodate the products and services that will deliver the evolution in digital technology that Hancock committed to? Or are they still reliant on purchasing through out-dated framework agreements?
Framework agreements have a reputation for inflexibility and exclusion, in particular, to new suppliers wanting to enter existing markets, to innovators bringing new ideas to existing markets, and to the fast adoption of new and emerging technology into current and new marketplaces.
The traditional frameworks, by their nature, cannot adapt at speed to embrace the technology that delivers on Hancock’s vision. The scope can be out-of-date on launch of the framework due to extended tender processes, and cannot be updated to align to technological innovation and development. It acts to frustrate innovation; there is no motivation for successful suppliers to drive products forward, and there is a real risk of complacency as the marketplace is artificially reduced in size.
Framework agreements must not become a barrier to the digital transformation of the NHS. While shorter contract durations and a reluctance to extend the existing contracts may offer some respite, a programme of re-tendering may not be the answer. It is a significant drain on the NHS procurement budget and on suppliers’ resources.
The answer must be an agile, iterative approach that enables fast adoption of technological excellence and rewards innovation, open standards and flexible integration with existing and future technology champions.