AXREM Concern regarding use of Framework Agreements

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AXREM the Association of Healthcare Technology Providers for Imaging, Radiotherapy & Care, represents all the major medical imaging manufacturers active in the UK. As a body, our members are concerned about the potential impact of inappropriate deployment of Framework Agreements as an alternative procurement channel to full EU procurement competition.

The use of Framework Agreements offering access to medical imaging and therapy solutions for NHS Trusts, Health Boards and Hospitals has grown dramatically in the UK in the last 3 years. Whilst the benefits are well understood; reduced time and complexity to procure, purchasing economies of scale, reduction in the number of tenders to issue by purchasers and a reduction in the number of tenders to complete and respond to for suppliers, these benefits can only be fully realized through open and fair competition of the initial Framework Agreement advertised and with extensive engagement both with the supplier community and the purchasing community who will benefit and gain access to any resulting Framework Agreement.

Experience has shown that access to a broad range and choice of medical imaging and therapy solutions from suppliers who meet the requisite technical, performance, quality and patient and operator safety specifications and standards provides NHS bodies with confidence in what they are purchasing and preserves flexibility to choose the specific solution and technology which best meets their specific needs. The use of mini-competitions under these Framework Agreements ensures that the buyer leverages their volume demand to maximise value which further enhances the potential for added value for money and reduced costs.

Unfortunately not all Framework Agreements have been established in this way and there is growing evidence that some Framework Agreements are being operated that have had limited engagement with either the supplier or purchasing community and have overlapped the potential beneficiaries of their Framework Agreements with other Framework Agreements already in place, diluting the potential economies of scale which could be achieved. Most concerning are some recent examples where the initial Framework Agreement was not issued in a clear and transparent way, leading to very limited responses to the Framework Agreement OJEU advert and a severely restricted number of participants on the subsequent Framework Agreement, none of which are manufacturers or suppliers of the medical imaging and therapy solutions to which the Framework Agreement pertains.

AXrEM’s position is that such inappropriate use of Framework Agreements risks compromising competition, if purchasers who participate as buyers from such Framework Agreement do so on the basis that (in so doing) they have fulfilled their obligation to entertain competitive offerings from a suitable range of providers. Furthermore, if the frameworks have not been established according to the relevant procurement rules and regulations, then this may potentially expose contracts awarded under such Framework Agreements to challenge.

Fundamentally, AXREM seeks to ensure an open and transparent procurement landscape. We would encourage NHS Trusts and other buyers to satisfy themselves that procurements are made through legitimate procurement channels, and that their procurement processes ensure proper consideration of a wide range of options from an appropriate range of competitive suppliers.