The NHS accounts for around 80% of all healthcare spending in the UK and it spends around £27 billion every year on goods and services.

Its sheer size, and the pressure to uphold quality and value for money, make the NHS market complex and tricky to navigate. If you want to sell your product or services into the NHS, you must understand that market entry issues are both numerous and notorious – whilst procurement rules are far more rigid than those of other public sector authorities and bodies.

This article explains the structure of the NHS market, and the best positioning tactics to become an NHS supplier.

Who owns the NHS Supply Chain?

The NHS supply chain is owned by the government under the NHS Commissioning Board, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI).

Who is in charge of NHS procurement?

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is responsible for setting the budget and top-line objectives of the NHS and is ultimately accountable for NHS procurement.

What is the SCCL?

A new Supply Chain NHS UK operating model came into effect in April 2018. Supply Chain Coordination Limited (SCCL) is the limited company that now oversees the new operations.

SCCL NHS manages the sourcing, delivery and supply of clinical consumables, capital medical equipment and products, such as food and office solutions for NHS Trusts and healthcare organisations across England and Wales.

How are NHS contracts awarded to external suppliers?

There are five main routes to market for companies interested in supplying the NHS. These, as laid out in government guidance on partnering with the NHS to sell goods and services, are:

  • selling directly to trusts or primary care organisations
  • selling through the new NHS Supply Chain
  • selling through collaborative purchasing arrangements
  • via national framework collaborations and contracts
  • through government tenders and contracts

NHS procurement is complex, with opportunities originating from many, individually devolved bodies, rather than a single centralised place. How contracts are awarded will depend on the route taken.

Many NHS healthcare services are commissioned through a tendering process via local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). There are 200 CCGs across England, each covering a different area.

Suppliers can also sell directly to providers, like GP practices, who often purchase locally, or through the new NHS supply chain.

How do I sell my products to the NHS supply chain?

The NHS supply chain enables products and consumables to be purchased via frameworks. Each framework covers a defined set of products. Suppliers bid to list their products on one of the NHS supply chain frameworks during a pre-defined time period. End customers, such as NHS Trusts, then use the NHS Supply Chain catalogue to order products.

It is worth bearing in mind that getting listed doesn’t guarantee business and sometimes not all qualifying businesses are listed.

As an example, see a recently announced framework with approved NHS unform suppliers here. 

How long is the buying cycle in the NHS?

The buying cycle in the NHS varies depending on the route, but in general, selling to the NHS involves an extensive process. It is rare for a new supplier to win an NHS contract straight out – it can take multiple attempts to get noticed.

For contracts over £181,302, there is a public tendering process, and for some bodies, even smaller amounts will also go through the same tendering, which makes the procurement cycle much longer.

Essentially, regardless of the procurement process, the bigger the contract/cost, the longer it can take. Small ticket items (less than £1,000) may only need one person to sign them off, but as quotes increase, it’s not uncommon for two or more signatures to be the norm.

How many suppliers does the NHS have?

The NHS uses products from more than 80,000 suppliers, encompassing medical equipment, food, and business and office goods. The NHS supply chain consolidates orders from over 8,000 suppliers.

How to become a supplier to the NHS?

There are a few routes to becoming an NHS approved supplier.

  • Register with the Contracts Finder and ‘Find a Tender Service’ (FTS)
  • Identify the right contacts within an NHS Trust or primary care organisation (generally clinicians, the procurement team and the finance team)
  • Partner with an NHS organisation via a grant-funded project from UK Research and Innovation or similar initiatives
  • Become a supplier via the NHS supply chain

Find out more about how to sell your product to the NHS here.

Commenting on the process, Dave Burrows, NHS Innovation Accelerator Fellow and CEO of Damibu, said:

“Many companies have a widespread belief that it’s required to sell direct to a trust or a CCG, however sometimes it’s actually easier not to go directly to the NHS. There are providers to the NHS whose commissioning rules aren’t as strict, so you could instead go to a healthcare provider servicing the NHS.”

How do you sell to hospitals?

If you are selling to a hospital, prepare for a long sales cycle. Many hospitals’ purchases come through CCGs and the appropriate tendering process, but an NHS authority or trust can make their own purchasing decisions. This usually involves identifying the appropriate contacts (clinicians, the procurement team, and the finance team) within the selected NHS hospital. However, identifying the right person to get in front of can be quite challenging.

How to sell medical supplies to hospitals

Procurement of Medicines for hospitals in England is led and coordinated by the NHS Commercial Medicines Unit (CMU) and is supported by the National Pharmaceutical Supply Group (NPSG) and the Pharmaceutical Market Strategy Group (PSMG).

Getting started: how can I sell my products to the NHS?

The first step is to gain a fundamental understanding of the NHS supplier framework. Doing some research is imperative and should not be underestimated. Spend time understanding the procurement routes, your competitors (check out the NHS approved suppliers list), and what to include in your bid. There are many private companies offering bid writing services.

Finding a way in means finding the right people to speak to. A great way to do this is to make use of exhibitions. Attending events relevant to NHS suppliers provides an opportunity to develop an understanding of the procurement process, check out the competition and get you in front of the right people.

At GovNet, we continue to build a strong portfolio of specialist exhibitions and conferences dedicated for the healthcare sector.

Our flagship show, Healthcare Excellence Through Technology (HETT), is a must event for those keen to sell technological innovations into the NHS. It is well respected and regularly supported by various parts of the NHS. Meanwhile, Leading Healthcare Through Innovation (LHIS) is designed for senior leadership from across the healthcare ecosystem and will bring together emerging communities to solve the most pressing issues facing the sector.

Download our healthcare brochure or request a meeting with the team today