07 Feb 2018
The NHS is a big opportunity for businesses offering healthcare products and services, but you need to know how to approach it, below the Health Innovation Exchange programme outlines some issues to consider.
As the biggest healthcare delivery organisation in the world, the NHS presents a big opportunity for businesses offering innovative health and care products and services. By the same token, selling into the NHS comes with its own set of challenges.
The size of the organisation means that finding a way in can be difficult. What’s more, even if you do find a way in, the procurement procedures can feel stiflingly complex and, should you manage to garner interest from within the organisation, establishing change is notoriously difficult, with time-pressured staff keen to stick with what they know.
Quite aside from the difficulties of dealing with such a large organisation, there are a number of other challenges that budding suppliers face. As a public organisation, the NHS is always changing, as per the political climate at the time. Budgets are increasingly restrictive and, as we’ve already touched on, employees have ever less time to do ever more work.
None of this is to say that businesses shouldn’t try to sell to the NHS. It just means that, to be successful, they have to know exactly what to expect and be absolutely ready to jump the hurdles that they’ll face. There are number of things businesses can do to make sure that’s the case.
Understand the process
It’s critical that any business wishing to sell to the NHS understands what is involved. This isn’t just in terms of the formal procurement process, but in terms of more informal aspects like the connectors and influencers who can help, the timescales that can be involved and the unexpected hold-ups that can occur. The NHS itself provides information for potential new suppliers, while a little digging around online will uncover other useful perspectives, such as that of independent medtech business consultant Ian Sandison, and co-production of innovations should be considered.
Be ready to go
Wherever possible, have your product or service proven, with evidence, and ready to be rolled out straight away. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps simplest of all: if your product or service attracts interest, you don’t want to miss the boat during further development time as a potential customer within the organisation cools on the idea or an alternative solution turns up. It’s for this reason too that proposing a pilot as part of a procurement process is best avoided.
Make the case
You need to make sure that the case you present for why the NHS should take on your product or service is watertight. The organisation’s procurement procedures are, rightly, very stringent, so there’ll free passes if you forget to cover / include / explain something that you should have. To do this, you’ll need to know the NHS procurement standards inside out and make sure that your product or service ticks every box.
Find a way in
Although it can be easier said than done, finding the right people to speak to within the NHS can be the difference between not getting through the front door or having your product or service widely rolled out. If you are offering the solution to a real problem that is faced within the organisation, then people will want to speak with you. It may be that you can’t get straight to them, for one reason or other, but finding influencers and connectors within the organisation can help you to do so. Reach out and speak to people in different roles and at different levels, attend events and, whatever you do, keep trying.
If you would like to explore the NHS as a target market for your products or services, don’t miss our Health Innovation Exchange’s ‘Selling into the NHS – The Next Major Opportunity event, taking place on Friday 9th February, when we will be providing you with the unique opportunity to meet senior management from within the NHS, as well as outlining the dedicated support we offer.