NHS launches £800 million tender for digital solutions framework

The tender will award contracts to up to 12 different suppliers, with work covering digital platforms and infrastructure, product development and data services.

The NHS has launched an £800 million tender for the provision of digital solutions within its NHS Digital arm and other health and social care bodies.

Digital products and services have been a target of UK government for some time. The process of “digital by default” began in earnest in 2011 with the establishment of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the award-winning redesign of gov.uk the following year.

Pressure felt by the coronavirus-induced lockdown has only served to strengthen the call for digital and earlier this week the government announced its “next steps” for a digital identity system. This latest tender opportunity from the NHS suggests that similar levels of investment will now be undertaken within the country’s health service as it too looks to a digital future.

“Evolving technical ‘stacks’”

Tender documents reveal that NHS Digital is looking to appoint up to 12 suppliers to a newly formed framework, with applicants chosen for their ability to “meet the specific needs of the health and social care sector”.

This framework is intended to address “the evolving technical ‘stacks’” associated with different pillars of NHS Digital operations. These include platforms and infrastructure, product development and data services, with the roster running for a total of four years.

Digital consultancies looking to be successful in their application will need to demonstrate their understanding of the specific organisational needs of a health service, according to the contract description. And once appointed, they will be expected to develop strategic partnerships with NHS Digital which can ultimately improve and innovate on its delivery of services.

GDS aligned

Service design is mentioned throughout the tender documents. The building and transition of NHS services for digital is one such area. Another is the end-to-end development of platforms, which the tender states must have “the ability to combine the full set of agile phases of discovery through to live”.

Development of all digital services will be expected to follow GDS requirements and guidelines, beginning at “discovery”, before moving on to alpha and beta testing further down the line. This method is outlined in the GDS service design manual.

Digital is “a pivotal part of delivering effective healthcare”

Digital expert and Reset Sessions co-founder Nicolas Roope tells Design Week that the proposed funding for the NHS’ digital future is reflective of the public being more at ease with digital services than ever before.

“The pandemic grabbed the learning curve and bent it sharply upwards in so many areas of life, particularly those aspects already enabled digitally,” he says. “Healthcare, whether we’re talking about front line or hospital care or mental health support have all accelerated their shift online, leaving the populace more comfortable with and more likely to engage NHS services digitally.”

Roope adds that beyond the NHS, “maturing healthcare players” like Babylon and YourMD – both online platforms with more than five years’ experience – signifies that digital has “become a pivotal part of delivering effective healthcare to the masses”.

“Once grasped, the significance of digital to health is profound,” Roope says. “The complexity of patient data, health records, medical histories and correlations of past and present diagnosis, treatments, medications etc makes a huge challenge and yet the perfect shaped problem for intelligent digital systems and AI to tackle.”

With such potential to cost-effectively improve offerings, this is why he says contracts are so valuable: “Tender figures [like this] are so eye watering: they mirror the savings and efficacy on the other side, providing the commissioning happens effectively.”

The challenge now, Roope explains, will be in how the NHS balances its own in-house digital team with the work being done by commissioned third parties.

Those wishing to find out more about the tender opportunity should head here.

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