NHS Competitive Tendering “Fiasco”

Law & Regulation
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Dentists slam "race to the bottom", as latest NHS tendering process abandoned

The British Dental Association (BDA) has called for the next government to end competitive tendering across the NHS, after the latest fiasco saw a process for commissioning orthodontic services across parts of the West Midlands abandoned yesterday after over six months. The decade-long contracts are estimated to be worth over £65 million.

The process has seen major delays as administrative failings by NHS England have potentially forced the reopening of tenders, while similar moves across other English regions have been facing legal challenges. Practices across the West Midlands have been left uncertain about the future of the process.

In some circumstances children who have been waiting for years to start orthodontic treatment on the NHS may face going to the back of the queue when current providers lost their contracts, with existing patients potentially running the risk of long journeys if they did not live near one the new providers.

Dentist leaders say tendering processes place huge stress on dedicated practices and encourage a race to the bottom in a bidding war to deliver NHS services at the cheapest price. The BDA is aware of contracts in NHS Southern region, that have already been handed back by successful bidders owing to lack of staff.

Providers have already spent considerable time, energy and money putting together bids – with companies providing support on writing bids at costs of up to £30,000. Emails were sent to all current bidders in the West Midlands region by NHS England yesterday. [1]

The BDA is calling on all parties to scrap tendering, and for special consideration for the many high performing practices that have lost their contracts during this process.

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said: “This fiasco shows why it’s time to end this race to the bottom in our NHS. Children could face going to the back of the queue for braces, or switching provider months or years into a course of treatment. Meanwhile practitioners are already facing huge costs and stress in a bidding war to deliver NHS services at the cheapest price.

“Across England contracts have been taken from committed practitioners and handed to providers without the staff to deliver on them. All on the basis of a paper exercise rather than a serious examination of their capability. The next government should not be applying a ‘Seaborne Freight’ model to NHS services. This sort of ‘competitive’ tendering does nothing to improve quality and only jeopardises continuity of care.

“NHS orthodontists should not have to squander precious clinical time on a failed process that has a material impact on patients.”

[1] Email from NHS England to West Midlands bidders
Subject: ***Important - Message regarding Batch 2***

Message: Dear bidder. Further to our previous communications via the portal extending the standstill period for this procurement, I am writing to inform you that, after considering the process undertaken very carefully and after receiving legal advice, NHS England has taken the difficult decision to abandon this procurement process (“process”).

NHS England will therefore not award any contract under this Batch 2 process. This encompasses lots CM1 to CM13 and lots WM1 to WM11. Having reviewed this process in detail, NHS England has decided that it is unable to make an assured, unequivocal award. NHS England will make any announcements concerning any future procurement process for the provision of these services in a manner that is accessible to all potential suppliers.

Thank you again for your time and effort in participating in this process.

Yours sincerely AGCSU