Common mistakes in NHS tenders

Here’s a simple thing to improve the quality of your NHS tenders. A pre-submission tender review. And ideally, by someone from outside the bid team.

Writing NHS tenders is an intense activity, especially given the time constraints which apply to most NHS procurements. The pressure to draft responses can lead to confused narrative and what are – with the benefit of hindsight – quite glaring omissions. No-one is immune.

An objective reviewer will identify issues in time for them to be addressed before submission of NHS tenders. It’s a role we fulfil quite often for clients. Interestingly, across many different organisations, the same issues surface time and again. We’ve listed these frequent mistakes in NHS tenders below. If you’re not in the habit of conducting reviews perhaps revisit some unsuccessful tenders and see how many of the following apply:

Top 8 mistakes in NHS tenders

1. The response doesn’t answer the question. Obvious perhaps, but this is the stand out, single biggest issue we see in NHS tenders. It is probably also the most damaging in terms of reducing scores. The use of “boilerplate” text is sometimes partly to blame. Existing content is a useful starting point. However, it does need to be adapted and reshaped for each specific question. Politicians may get away with answering their own questions, but unfortunately bid writers cannot.

2. Poor response structure. Tender responses should always reflect the structure of the question. This helps to ensure you address each point and makes your response easy to read. It also allows the evaluator to tick off each sub-section against the question as they go. Responses which don’t mirror the question structure or worse, lack any logical thread whatsoever, are both difficult to follow and hard work for evaluators.

3. Lack of key theme(s) or central message. A strong tender or bid will stress your unique strengths throughout the narrative. To do this well, you need to identify win themes or USPs before bid writing starts. It is much more difficult to retrofit these messages once the entire response has been drafted.

4. Poor English. Cumbersome sentence structures, bad grammar, overuse of the same word in a single sentence, poor spelling – all these can detract from a response. At the very least it suggests a lack of care and looks unprofessional. At worst, confused sentence structures may convey the wrong messages.

5. Inconsistent terminology. This is particularly unhelpful when it relates to the bidder’s own organisation. If you have a Clinical Governance Committee but sometimes call this the Quality Assurance Committee, stick to one or other in a tender. The same applies to job titles, project names, project phases and so forth.

6. Assuming reader knowledge. Unless you know exactly who is going to be evaluating your response and are entirely confident that they are 100% familiar with your service, explain everything. Some commissioners have a policy of using non-experts to evaluate tender responses on the basis that every response should be easily understood by a lay person.

7. Inscrutable acronyms. Apart from the very obvious acronyms e.g. NHS, GP, CCG, the first time an acronym is used in each individual response, it should be alongside its expanded form e.g. “…these healthcare professionals will work together in an Integrated Care Team (ICT).”

8. Multiple styles. A common consequence of having multiple contributors to a single tender is a patchwork of writing styles. Style may even vary within a response (a common sign of cut and paste). This makes for a jarring read. Almost every tender has multiple contributors, but whoever is responsible for pulling the whole thing together really does need to pay attention to style.

One last thought. Make sure you plan adequate time for review and edit so that your tender (and the evaluators!) can enjoy maximum benefit.

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