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Following the changes to the NHS Health and Social Care Act in 2012, one of our clients – Walsall Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – took on its new responsibilities in 2013 for buying and managing healthcare services for the Borough of Walsall.   In this blog/case study , Alan Turrell, Head of Contracting & Procurement, and Gary Arnold, Contracts Manager from the CCG, provide us with an insight into how they are maximising the success of their procurements with the use of our AWARD®tender evaluation solution. Taking us through the crucial assessment stages of their procurement lifecycle, they highlight where progress has been made in making sure GPs and Clinicians better understand the importance of supplier evaluation.  In being clear about what the requirements are and how suppliers are to be assessed, the organisation continues to make a positive impact on improved contract management and patient care.

During the first year of the Walsall CCG we have found AWARD® to be an invaluable solution in securing wider engagement in our procurement processes which, in turn, has ensured that resultant contracts meet clinical requirements and hence contribute to the overall vision of the CCG: “To improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Walsall”.

The philosophy behind CCGs is that all commissioning decisions should be clinically led and procurement is no exception. Therefore a distinct element of our procurement strategy is to secure engagement of our GPs and other clinicians at all stages of the procurement process:  from the identification of need and the development of specifications; through participation in the evaluation of both PQQs and tenders and the contract award decision and, thereafter, as key players in monitoring the performance of providers.

Evaluation of PQQs and bids is a key part of this engagement and AWARD® has proved to be a valuable tool in facilitating this engagement. Firstly it has provided the basis for explaining the distinct two stage process of identifying capability and capacity through the initial PQQ stage and then determining the successful bid or bids through evaluation of ITT and the need to have clear and separate evaluation criteria for each.

Secondly, it has reinforced the need for transparency, equity and consistency, as well as the importance of a robust audit trail in the procurement process with the need to ensure that all scores given are supported by clear reasoning which is capable of being explained to bidders, particularly those that have been unsuccessful, at a later date. This means clinicians have gained a real understanding of the intricacies of tender evaluation in determining the optimum provider and the need for every decision to be transparent and justifiable. It has also hopefully gone some way to demonstrating what otherwise may have been seen as a highly bureaucratic process as one which is actually fundamental to determining which provider is the most capable of meeting the needs of patients.

Thirdly, the ease of use of the system has in itself been a vital factor in securing the level of engagement. With our internal lead taking the time to train all evaluators, including clinicians, in the use of AWARD®, it has quickly become apparent that is easy to use and is akin to using on-line shopping systems or surveys. Being able to access AWARD® remotely and not have to be on the CCG’s premises in order to participate in the evaluation process has been a particularly attractive feature to clinicians who are mostly looking after patients in regular office hours. The audit trails within the system has also provided a degree of assurance. The capability for the scores and comments of individual evaluators to be viewed and overseen  by the system administrator has been invaluable in educating all participants (not just clinicians) that there must be a clear and justifiable explanation for all scores and that comments such as “poor response” and “lack of detail” are insufficient. Indeed utilising AWARD’s web based system has now become the evaluation method of choice for our clinical and other evaluators with resistance to using non-electronic paper-based systems.

Furthermore, having gained this detailed understanding of tender evaluation, clinicians are now able to perform their other procurement-related tasks such as specification development and contract monitoring in a much more informed and effective way. For example, having participated in the evaluation process clinicians have a much clearer understanding of what is expected of successful providers and this means that they are better informed and more challenging as clients when monitoring service delivery.

The CCG also conducts various other processes that are akin to tender evaluation such as priority setting and option appraisal and we can see the potential to apply AWARD® to these applications also. This will mean that clinical commissioners are using a tool with which they are already familiar and that there is a degree of consistency across the CCG’s range of activities where an evaluation process needs to be employed.

It should be emphasised that these benefits have not only been appreciated by clinicians but all other participants in the tender evaluation process including commissioners, lay members, clinical governance staff and finance managers.

This wide engagement in procurement means that, unlike in many organisations, there is now a good appreciation throughout the CCG of what a procurement process entails.  This in itself goes a long way to securing recognition that procurement is not merely a bureaucratic administrative process but one that is vital in determining which providers are best placed to meet the interests of patients.

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