The possibilities for technology to innovate within the health industry are almost endless. From Artificial Intelligence and Mobile applications to data infrastructure and smart therapeutics there are many examples of how technology can be included in clinical decision support and pathway management, empowering patients with the ability to make it easier to look after their health and well-being.
With such a seemingly huge market available, it can be extremely difficult to understand how to both implement and supply products and services to the health system when dealing with the single largest public health care system, the NHS. There are processes to follow which can present barriers particularly if you don’t know where to start.
Here are some of our top tips when thinking about supplying to the Health Service – for more support we recommend talking to your local Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) for which we are extremely fortunate to have located at Sci-Tech Daresbury with the Innovation Agency directly supporting the health technology community.
Have a product that’s actually needed
Before you start trying to sell something, do your research to check it’ll solve a problem or service a real need. Spotting a genuine gap in the market is hard. Maybe your product’s not out there because there’s not a real necessity for it. Double-check there’s nothing similar out there already too, so you don’t waste your time developing a product unnecessarily. Crucially ensure you are up to date with developments in the service including the Long Term Plan.
Make sure your product’s fully ready for market
Competition is fierce and there might be someone else with a similar product to yours, so you’ll need your product to be developed as it can be, or your rival’s will be picked ahead of yours. Likewise, make sure you’re ready to go if you manage to successfully sell to the NHS. You’ll only get one shot, so don’t waste it so ensure you check you are up to date with the latest regulations and clinical evidence standards – if you’re unsure visit the NICE and MHRA websites for information.
Knock on the right doors
The NHS can have many doors to access, especially when it comes to procurement. Just about every hospital or trust can make their own decision about what to buy, so pinning down who to contact isn’t always easy. Talk to your AHSN network to get advice from their commercial teams as well as talking to the Innovation leads for the trust. But crucially look up that trust and see if you can identify their needs and priorities.
It’s not always about selling
Sometimes it’s easier to ‘partner with’ rather than ‘sell to’ the NHS. The best way to do this is to look at getting a targeted grant from a partner or approaching organisations, like Innovation Agency, to help link you to the NHS and find you a suitable partner.
Another way in is to look for a sponsor within the organisation you’re interested in. This person can act like an ambassador for your product and help open one or two of the doors we mentioned earlier.
Be prepared to go through a tender process
Being a public body, the NHS has to be transparent and fair in how it spends money, so you’ll probably have to tender to them at some point. Under EU rules, public authorities must tender on all contracts of £181,302 or more (obviously this might change if and when we leave the EU), although most will go through the same process on much smaller amounts.
This can be time-consuming too, so you might have to wait a long time before you’ll know if you’re successful and for things to happen if you are.
Do your homework before you start
We’d recommend doing thorough research before getting started. The good news is there’s an abundance of reading material online to get stuck into, including NHS procurement standards and selling guides. You can also find North West NHS procurement opportunities at The Chest.