As flagged up in TTA last October, [start here and follow the links back] The Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation (ESPO) has now issued a tender for a telehealth and telecare systems framework agreement. It will run for four years and comprises three ‘lots’:
- A single online shop for products (and possibly services): “products included in the catalogue can be updated, increased or revised at any time in response to innovations in the market place and evolving client needs”
- Managed service provision: “a list of proven, specialist suppliers who are able to undertake this for [service commissioners]. This may include some or all of: service user assessment, equipment supply, service monitoring, and response…we intend to restrict the number of suppliers…to approximately 6” [Emphasis ours]
- Consultancy services: “a list of suitably experienced consultants who are able to provide specialist advice to commissioners on the topics of telecare and telehealth”
The EU and UK laws on tendering for supplies and services are extremely burdensome on suppliers and commissioners alike but they have evolved to introduce safeguards that reduce the scope for dishonesty and ‘favourite picking’ and to provide all potential providers with a level playing field. Government procurement frameworks are a means of reducing that burden by jumping through the EU procurement hoop once every few years, after which many of the safeguards are reduced.
This framework appears go some way towards meeting the criticism of the inflexibility of previous framework agreements but the four-year restriction of competition to one online shop and six managed service providers does not bode well for the UK market. Even the chosen consultancies will find their freedom to advise fettered by the choices made by the framework commissioners.
We also have to ask from where will ESPO get impartial advice when making the selection? There is, for example, a diversity of opinion on what constitutes a good managed service and all experts in this small field (some of whom will be tendering for a place on Lot 3) have biases. Or will the selection be made, as with previous frameworks, by people who have no in-depth knowledge of the topic and who are therefore easily swayed by the suppliers who can talk the best talk?