The tendering process for health and social care can seem complicated, but there are several key strategies you can adopt to maximise your chances of bidding success. As with other industries, the tender process is largely standardised whether you are applying to Commissioners in the NHS, Local Authorities/councils, or government bodies.
Unlike some other sectors, the proposal writing process often starts with a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ). This acts as a bidding ‘first round’ and produces a shortlist of suppliers for the next stage. This is then followed by a more in-depth and competitive Invitation to Tender (ITT) process.
Here we look at the application process and consider the key elements that contribute to creating a winning bid/proposal.
Check Your Eligibility
As proposal/tender writing is time and resource-consuming, it makes sense to check your eligibility to bid to avoid disappointment after the evaluation. As such, the first thing you need to do with any health and social care tender is to check that you are eligible to apply. There are several ways you can do this, including:
- Checking the information within the contract notice/PIN
- Checking the ITT document within the tender pack (a ‘search and find’ for ‘eligibility’ or ‘minimum requirements’ is often very useful)
- Asking the buyer/authority a Clarification Question via the tender portal
Due to their stringent compliance criteria, the NHS and local authorities receive a high number of bids from companies that don’t quite meet their requirements. This is the reason that buyers often start with a PQQ process which filters out applicants who do not meet the conditions in terms of finances, accreditations, competency and experience.
For health and social care tenders, the eligibility requirements will often focus on:
- Your financial turnover
- Key insurances, including Employers Liability and Medical Malpractice
- Accreditations and registrations such as Care Quality Commission (CQC) registration
- Your previous experience in delivering health and social care to Service Users
Completing the PQQ
While often less extensive than the ITT/tender document, the PQQ is critical to get right. It is designed to filter out unqualified bidders and decides if a potential supplier can deliver the contract, whether they are qualified and if they’re a suitable partner.
Be aware that, though often the PQQ will be issued in conjunction with the ITT, buyers will sometimes run this process as a separate initial stage to filter out unsuitable applicants.
You can expect some PQQs to be straightforward Selection Questionnaires usually requiring up to 3 x contract examples to demonstrate your technical ability. However, more extensive PQQs may also contain Method Statement-type questions you will be required to answer and which we will be evaluated by the buyer. Different PQQ’s will vary, but these questions will often focus on your key business processes relevant to the industry, such as:
- Safeguarding and Risk Management
- Safer Recruitment process
- Prevent Policy
- Equality and diversity
- Health and Safety
As PQQ responses will often be evaluated stringently or on a pass/fail basis, make sure your business processes and policies are fully aligned with health and social care legislation/best practice.
Invitation to Tender (ITT)
If you have passed the PQQ, buyers will then invite you to complete the ITT/tender document or request a free-form proposal. Compared to the PQQ stage, the requirements of the tender will likely be more in-depth and extensive.
This is where a robust bid planning and preparation process for the ITT stage can often make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful health/social care bid. Therefore, bear in mind:
Depending on the questions being asked, you will need to formulate a clear win strategy and identify any potential weaknesses in your service/solution. Given the competitive nature of health and social care tenders, we recommend that you evaluate your position against your competitors and pin down Key Win themes/USPs.
Health and social care buyers will likely want to understand how you have delivered high-quality care/support to Service Users in the past. Therefore, start thinking about what evidence, examples and client testimonials you will draw upon to demonstrate your expertise.
Read the whole set of tender documents!
Another key part of bid preparation is to make you fully understand the buyer’s requirements. To win a health or social care tender, it is essential to understand the scope of the contract and the customer's expectations. Bidders should consider and review the following elements when preparing a winning bid.
- The ITT document
- The buyer’s specification
- The evaluation criteria
- The Clarification Question Log
Research the customer to understand their expectations, preferences, and requirements. Take the time to learn about their needs, budget, and timelines. Doing this will help you create a proposal that meets their specific needs.
Bid Writing House Style
To ensure your responses or proposal looks professional, consistent and readable, good bid management starts with a set house writing style. This should ensure that each bid you put in for a tender will have the same professional look and the right tone.
It’s important to get this bid writing style nailed down early on. This includes not just font choice and layouts but the style of language you are going to use. In general, it’s best to avoid long sentences and complicated jargon. Based on Thornton and Lowe’s proven tender-winning approach, some key features of our own house style include:
- Placing the benefit before the feature in a sentence
- Keeping sentence length under 25 words
- Writing in Arial, Font 11 unless otherwise requested
Your house style obviously always needs to be compliant with any formatting/style requirements the buyer outlines within the ITT. As such, be prepared to adapt your house style where necessary.
While this will vary depending on services required, the ITT may follow a strict format and include several compliance criteria that must be adhered to. To make sure you don’t fall at the first hurdle, make sure you review the ITT to understand:
- Word counts/page counts
- Required font size and formatting
- The evaluation criteria
- Any policies, evidence and attachments that are mandatory
It is vital to read the questions carefully and fully understand the specifications, as failure to answer clearly in any section can cost you the bid.
When responding to the ITT, it’s important not to jump ‘feet first’ into the method statement writing stage. Instead, your bid team should work collaboratively to plan out and storyboard each response. What does this involve?
Essentially, you need to set out a structure and a content plan for each response. This should be based on addressing every single element of the question alongside the evaluation criteria.
This will ensure you know what to do to achieve an ‘Excellent’ score whilst hitting the compliance criteria for each response.
To save time, of course, you might use some standard collateral for common questions that come up in health and social care bids. This would include common subjects like Safeguarding, Health and Safety and Equality and Diversity. It’s important, however, to always tailor generic collateral to the buyer’s requirements and expectations. Focus on whether it really answers the question, rather than simply cutting and pasting it into the document.
The Quality aspect of your tender, often accounting for 40%-60 of the evaluation score, will most likely require you to submit answers to method-statement-type questions posed by the buyer. For health and social care bids, the types of questions you might be asked will vary. However, you can probably expect to be asked to elaborate on:
- Your approach to delivering person-centred support and care to Service Users
- Your Risk Management process and Safeguarding protocols
- The accessibility of your service and your commitment to inclusivity/equal opportunities
- Your approach to Clinical Governance, quality assurance and legislative compliance
- The competencies, qualifications and accreditations your staff hold
- The strength of your infrastructure and resources to deliver the contract
- Your plan to implement a robust mobilisation/transition process which minimises disruption and risk
- Your proposal to leave a positive legacy in the community by committing to local social value delivery
- Examples of how you have previously maximised positive outcomes for Service Users
Key things to keep in mind when preparing your method statements for healthcare bids include:
- Before you write, give all your attention to the key requirements of the service, reviewing the specification and the evaluation criteria. This will ensure you have a full understanding of what the commissioners are looking for and what you to focus on to give you a high score
- Look at each of the key elements of each of the method statement questions and use these to storyboard/structure your response within the word count allowed
- Be aware that it is likely each response will be evaluated separately, therefore avoid ‘cross-referencing’ to other answers
- Check if any of the method statements are allowing supplementary supporting evidence and, if so, prepare your evidence in advance of the deadline
- Make sure your responses are written in plain English and that you proofread to avoid errors/inconsistencies which can make your bid look unprofessional
Finally, when it comes to health and social care bids, there should be a strong focus on how your solution maximises positive outcomes for Service Users. Therefore, don’t forget the ‘human element’ alongside talking about elements such as your key systems, innovations and cost efficiencies.
What To Include When Proposal Writing
Your bid writing strategy will be different depending on the requirements of each health and social care tender. However, there is a range of common winning strategies you can apply, whether you’re supplying residential home care for a local council or working on a new IT system for the NHS. These include:
It’s important to make sure your bid is compelling as well as compliant. All too often, bidders will fail or lose out to competitors because they simply list what they are going to deliver. This is fine as a start and the compliance element is important to reassure the evaluators. But they’d also like to know how your proposal is going to benefit those who will be using your service, i.e, the Service Users. Focusing on benefits should also make your proposal more engaging and compelling. To make your benefits more obvious when writing, we always recommend stating the benefit before the feature within a sentence.
USPs and Key Win Themes can help your bid/proposal stand out from your competitors. Especially if you can conduct a Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis in the bid preparation stage which outlines the key differentiators of your service. If you have unique features that set you apart from the competition, you need to bring these across and explain why they are so beneficial. To create a ‘golden thread’ throughout the bid, try and refer to your USPs in each response as long as this remains relevant.
Everything in health and social care tender writing needs to be structured around the main points of the questions being asked. Commissioners/evaluators do not want you to deviate and go off-message. You should ensure that each method statement follows a coherent structure and uses leadings linked to the question criteria.
Ensuring your answers are concise, compliant with any word count limits and relevant is a good way to ensure the attention of the evaluator does not drift. The one thing that will lose you points when tender writing is giving evaluators information that they don’t need and didn’t ask for. It’s time-consuming for them and doesn’t benefit your tender response/proposal.
If you are talking about your robust methodology for care planning or maximising positive outcomes for Service Users, then you also need to substantiate it and provide evidence that is clear and compelling. You well may find that, within the evaluation criteria, the buyer will outline that they require evidence to back up each response. This can be difficult for new businesses and those that are moving into different areas of provision but is key to demonstrating your suitability.
The stronger the evidence you have to back up your claims, the better chance you have of winning the tender. As such, you should prepare the strongest case studies and client testimonials you have, including these wherever you can in the method statement responses.
But do also make sure your examples match up with the scope of service/specification that is being asked for.
Social value is almost invariably built into any tender for health and social care. In fact, increasingly the social value element within NHS/healthcare bids is accounting for 10-20% of the overall evaluation score. This is about demonstrating your commitment to leaving a positive legacy that extends beyond the contract. You may be asked to outline your commitment to delivering Apprenticeships, taking part in outreach projects or demonstrating your record on carbon reduction.
When offering social value pledges, ensure they are relevant to the work you are providing and linked with the buyer’s own social value strategy and hot buttons. Doing research into this will help you to deliver a strong social value proposal.
Common Mistakes in Health & Social Care Tender Writing
Tendering can be arduous and there are some common mistakes we routinely see. Luckily, these can be easily avoided by following our Ultimate Guide! Some common mistakes which can hamper your chances of success, or at least negatively affect your scoring, including:
1. Failing to Answer the Question
Top of the list when it comes to bad tender response/proposal writing is not answering the question properly. You should be referring to the question constantly and making sure that your heading structure mirrors how the question is asked. A ‘quick win’ strategy is to echo back some of the key wording and terminology within the question to show that you’ve understood it. This is where storyboard/answer planning can help make sure that you address the question and don’t leave anything out. It can also help you better manage the word count for particular sections.
2. Lack of Detail/Evidence
While we say that you should be concise in your answers, there is the danger of being too brief and not providing good evidence to substantiate your claims. This is the art of good tender writing, knowing when you’ve said enough and when you need to add more.
One of the key things that commissioners in health and social care are going to require is evidence to back up claims. There is no point in saying you can deliver a true person-centred service which also reduces costs without showing that 1) You’ve either done it before through a contract/case study or 2) You have the processes and methodology in place to deliver in the future.
4. Padding Out Answers
Health and social care evaluators are likely to mark your response down if you waffle, are too generic, or include evidence that just isn’t relevant to the response. This is about making sure every sentence counts, is relevant and is clear in stating benefits/win themes. If it’s not relevant to the bid, then you need to remove it, however good it sounds. It’s a difficult balance to achieve but it is vital to success. A good strategy here is to apply the “so what?” test to what you have written.
5. Compliance Issues
Make sure you note all the key compliance criteria when undertaking bid preparation, as missing something seemingly simple could result in your bid being deemed non-compliant. For example, not being aligned with the formatting requirements or failing to attach Company Accounts. If requested, make sure you include all required compliance information when submitting a bid for a contract. For example, your company's accounts, proof of insurance, policies and any documents requested by the buyer.
What Happens If Your Bid is Successful?
The bid writing process is not the end of the process if the commissioning panel like what they see. They will normally draw up a shortlist and then invite these companies for an interview or to do a presentation. In these instances, make sure you re-read your tender responses before the interview and have your USPs/Key Win Themes in mind.
Contact Thornton & Lowe Today
At Thornton & Lowe we help 100s of companies each year write bids for the health and social care sector. Want to find out more? Contact our friendly, expert team to see how we can help with your next bid. firstname.lastname@example.org