Accessing a wide range of consultancy expertise

A new Multidisciplinary Consultancy Services Framework is enabling NHS and other public organisations to organise consultancy expertise in a streamlined, fully compliant way. Phil Davies, director of Procurement at NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), describes how this can help support trusts in delivering better services for the populations they serve

The NHS today faces many challenges. Budgets are stretched and trusts are under pressure to extract as much value as possible – for as little spend – from systems, processes and people.

In an environment as complex and diverse as the NHS, this could involve programmes as varied as lowering energy costs to improving HR processes or implementing new data management programmes. And understandably, it is simply not feasible to have the niche skills, experience or resources, which are required to ensure these projects are a success, in-house on a permanent basis.

Instead, the NHS regularly commissions specialist insight that is best provided by external subject experts, or consultants. An amorphous category that is frequently misunderstood – especially in the context of the NHS – falling under this umbrella are a range of professional services firms that strive to help organisations operate in the most effective manner possible, whilst ensuring financial outlay is kept to a minimum. This includes everything from law firms to low carbon consultancies, public engagement practitioners to change management experts.

£25 million worth of savings
And to meet the demand for consultancy services, not just in the NHS but across the entire public sector, our specialist procurement team at NHS SBS has developed and launched the Consult 18: Multidisciplinary Consultancy Services Framework.

Expected to help generate more than £25 million worth of savings for the public purse over the next four years, the free-to-use framework is a legally compliant and cost-effective way for NHS and other public sector bodies to access a wide range of consultancy expertise. Typically, it offers users savings of around 10 per cent when compared with purchasing direct from a supplier and all firms on the framework have been rigorously assessed against a number of robust criteria, such as value for money and financial vigour.

With the NHS typically requiring very specific consultancy expertise, and from consultancies with a granular understanding of the myriad challenges of public healthcare, the framework has a number of specific lots, such as Healthcare Innovation and Research and Healthcare Service Business & Transformation. Five different NHS Commissioning Support Units (CSUs) are also on board as suppliers.

As the public sector is also no stranger to more generic challenges, there are a number of more general lots, such as Finance, HR and IT Consultancy. An Ancillary Consultancy Services lot, meanwhile, is included to enable organisations to work with multidisciplinary teams or access ad-hoc support. And unlike similar models, this new framework has a mix of suppliers that includes both major national players and SMEs, split by specialism, geographical region and project value band, meaning users are able to work with both generalists and firms with very niche specialisms, or commission local firms when appropriate.

The framework is designed with flexibility in mind. For instance, with many NHS trusts already having preferred suppliers, this new agreement facilitates their fully compliant and rapid appointment through a direct award process. Where there is no preferred supplier, it is also possible to run mini competitions to assess the capability of a number of different suppliers at once.

In addition, users can deploy a range of model contracts in line with their particular requirements, and there are a number of different options for pricing and discount structures, settlements and volume spend rebates.

Accessing consultancy support
Since its inception, the framework has already been used widely by NHS and public sector organisations. For example, in the North West, expert consultancy was key to assessing the feasibility of creating shared patient/service user records across the whole health and social care community within a particular footprint. In the West Midlands, an NHS provider trust sought expert help to enable it to improve its clinical coding and data systems to ensure income recovery is consistent across all specialities. And a trust in the south of England appointed an expert team to help prepare and facilitate a two-day system wide workshop for over 200 attendees, to further the aim of improving clinical models across the organisation.

By allowing NHS organisations to access consultancy support across a range of disciplines, in a flexible and cost effective manner, this new framework is helping the NHS to not only operate more effectively now, but also ensure it can continue to do so for many years to come.

And at the heart of using consultancy services to help improve the way in which the NHS operates is a mission common to all NHS organisations: improving patient care. Mitigating risk, operating more effectively and working in a more cost-efficient manner means that, over time, more budget share will be channelled towards wards, operating theatres and frontline staff – the places and people who need it most.

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