We have expressed significant concerns about the terms under which the orthodontic contracts across the South of England are being tendered.
Nevertheless, we recognise that some practices will want to move forward with the procurement process, and the following is practical advice for those interested in these tenders.
Who can bid?
The orthodontic re-procurement exercise is well underway in the South of England and is commencing in Cheshire and Merseyside and in London.
The procurement process is being conducted under the Public Contract Regulations 2015. It is using Dynamic Purchasing systems (DPS) in the form of In-Tend and Proactis.
In the South Region the process is being managed by NHS South, Central and West's Central Commissioning Unit. Stage 1, the Selection Questionnaire stage, in the South, is complete and the Call for Competition has commenced. It is open to all bidders who have been successful in Stage 1 of the DPS.
If you have been successful in Stage 1 you need to hit the 'opt-in' button to progress to the Call for Competition or Invitation to Tender (ITT) Stage.
This doesn't oblige you to submit the ITT, but you will need to opt in to see the documents and decide whether you wish to progress your bid.
When do you need to bid?
Time is key. The turnaround time for the Call for Competition Stage is tight, so make sure that you are ready with as much documentation and information prepared in advance as possible.
Ensure that you have the resources available to dedicate time to completing the documentation to the best of your ability.
Think about putting your own timetable in place with details such as who is doing what and when and giving deadlines for each section with a final deadline that gives you enough leeway for amendments to be made and plenty of time for uploading your answers.
Making a good bid
The Call for Competition is tailored towards local needs. The tender documentation is an opportunity to sell yourself.
You will need to think about your area, the geographics, and tailor your response. Stage 2 will be one chance only. They will want to know about your history, innovation and what you will bring to the contract.
The most important thing to do is read the documents carefully and refer to them in your answers. The ITT and Service Specification will be key and explain how to construct a compliant bid.
The questions have different weightings so make sure you bear this in mind. Read the questions like you would an exam question. What gets you a good score in an exam is a 'benefit-led' response. A 'C' grade response would be to say "yes I can do that", a 'B' grade would be to say, "yes I can that and here's how". In order to get an A grade you need to say, "yes I can do that, here's how and here's the benefit to you."
Make sure you punctuate your answers with evidence and articulate the benefits. Also make sure you answer ALL the questions.
Remember that the Commissioners are trying to identify bidders that best meet their needs and objectives, so make sure that you know what these are and explain how you will meet them. Refer to the pertinent parts of documents such as the Service Specification, ITT, Lot data sheet and Guide for Commissioning Dental Specialties – Orthodontics to demonstrate and explain your understanding.
Bear in mind, that the evaluators do not know you. There will be different subject matter experts evaluating specific questions, and therefore each question needs to be answered fully and carefully. Don't just refer to an answer in another question or document as the evaluator may not have access to this information.
Keep a lid on the jargon
Another key thing is to make sure that your answers are easy to read. Ensure you don't put in too much jargon or use acronyms, without spelling them out first.
Answers should be clear, concise, direct and written in plain English. Proof read your answers – make sure they stand out. If you are asked to upload documents then do so but only upload the requested documents, not others, and make sure that any uploads are labelled correctly.
The system style is plain text only. This means if you draft your document in Word there will be no bullets and formatting, so check everything looks right on the system. Also be careful with your word count. If you are over the word count then you could be cut off mid-sentence.
Consider your pricing
Carefully consider the pricing of your bid. There is a fixed price tariff in the South Region ranging from £54.89 to £58.89 per UOA and the bid price that you put in will have an effect on the overall bid due to the weighting given to price bandings.
The lower the price band, the higher the score. If your bid is outside this fixed price tariff then you will be disqualified. It is important that you carefully work out your finances and structure your bid accordingly.
Don't just go in at the lowest price. Put in a bid that is based on what is financially viable and remember that you will need to run this service in a safe and compliant way if you are successful. If it isn't financially viable then consider whether it is right for you to bid.
Keep it confidential
Keep all of the procurement information and documentation confidential. It is a requirement under the terms of the ITT that you keep all information confidential and do not pass it to anyone.
If you require advice to complete the bid, it can be passed on, but only for the purposes of the advice and the advisor must undertake in writing to keep the information confidential. This provision means that you cannot discuss the procurement and documentation with the media, your MP or anyone without the prior consent of the Commissioner.
We are unhappy with this constraint and are raising concerns about it, but as long as it remains a condition of the procurement, please exercise caution.
Complete all of the declarations including the form of tender, conflict of interest, collusive tendering declaration and canvassing declaration otherwise your tender may be deemed non-compliant and not be evaluated.
Read the small print
Check the contractual documentation very carefully. The terms of the agreement on offer, such as the Personal Dental Services Agreement in the South Region, may be non-negotiable, so ensure that you are happy with the terms at the outset.
Don't leave it till the last minute
Think about the time limit for submissions, usually this is at midday not midnight. Don't leave it until the last day to upload your documents.
Leave time to upload. If you are late there are no second chances. You can submit your document early and if you realise you have made a mistake you can un-submit and re-submit provided you do so before the deadline.
The evaluators will be unsympathetic if you call on the closing day and say that you are having IT issues. Don't take this chance!
Be innovative with your answers, but compliant with the process. Make sure you understand the rules provided in the documentation. Follow the rules and the steps on time.
Do what is asked, when is asked and how it is asked! If you are unsure about anything, take the opportunity to submit a clarification question, however ensure that you submit these questions as early as possible and prior to the deadline provided in the ITT.
After submitting the bid, don't think that your job is done; keep your eyes open for clarification questions coming from the Commissioner.
If you receive any questions from the Commissioners, they must be replied to within two working days to avoid exclusion or your bid being evaluated without clarification, make sure that your Authorised Representative is watching for these questions and has the time and resources to respond quickly.