The UK National Health Service Is Launching a GBP 400M Language Services Tender

The UK National Health Service Is Launching a GBP 400M Language Services Tender

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has launched a giant call for tenders for interpreting and translation services, worth a possible half-a-billion dollars (GBP 400m) over four years.

According to Fiona Kirby, a Communications Officer with the North of England Commercial Procurement Collaborative, the call for tenders “is managed by the NHS North of England Commercial Procurement Collaborative (NOE CPC) on behalf of NHS Procurement in Partnership (NHS PiP)”. 

The goal is “to develop a framework agreement for Language Services that will be available to all customers of NHS PiP’s four procurement hubs, as well as the wider NHS and other public sector bodies.”

The new framework is combining two existing large contracts. Kirby clarified that “the proposed framework agreement replaces NOE CPC’s Interpreting and Translation framework and NHS London Procurement Partnership (NHS LPP)’s Language Services Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS) and will provide a variety of products and specialist services from multiple suppliers under each lot that can be accessed regionally.”

The contract takes the form of a framework agreement, which means that its total values are estimated rather than guaranteed. In addition, the framework is divided into six different lots and a further three sub-lots, with interested parties able to bid for one or more of the lots or sub-lots.

The framework will be used across more than 40 health “authorities” — and no doubt by hundreds if not thousands of individual requesters — as a means to order and receive language services. (These authorities are mostly local trusts that manage healthcare provision in a specific city or region.) 

Settings in which the services will be delivered include in the community, at hospitals and non-NHS settings, at general practitioner (GP) practices, in mental health inpatient settings, for planned and unplanned acute care, during accident and emergency visits, at public meetings, for home visiting services, and for learning and development purposes.

The framework will also be open for use, subject to approval, by parts of the wider public sector (e.g., schools and charities) in addition to the police, fire and rescue services, the Royal Navy, the Ministry of Defence, the British Army, and the Royal Air Force.

The entity named as the contracting authority on the agreement template is The Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, trading as North of England NHS Commercial Procurement Collaborative (“NOE CPC”). 

More Than GBP 60M for Remote Interpreting

The NOE CPC framework allocates GBP 80m (USD 100m) to face-to-face interpreting — half of which is for London and the South East, and half for “All other Regions.” Likewise, GBP 40m (USD 50m) is allocated to non-spoken language interpreting (sign language) — with half of this amount reserved for  London and the South East, and the remainder for other regions.

The remote services of telephone interpreting (OPI) and video interpreting (VRI) are both covered by nationwide lots. The value of each is GBP 32m (USD 40m). Meanwhile, Lot 6 for written translation, transcription, and ancillary services, is the smallest lot, with an estimated value of GBP 16m (USD 20m) over four years.  

The largest amount — half of the total value of the framework — is reserved for Lots 1a and 1b: Managed Services. The purpose of these lots is to “enable one, some or all services to be called off which will be delivered via a Service Provider awarded onto Lot 1.”

Qualifications, KPIs, and Scope

The framework outlines the type of qualifications that interpreters may be required to hold. These include NRPSI full status, ITI membership, CIOL membership, an undergraduate degree in the relevant language, an MA or diploma in translation or interpreting, a DPSI qualification, IELTS certification, or NVQ in Interpreting. 

Under the framework, providers will be expected to cover close to 100 languages (although the list is not exhaustive and additional languages and / or different dialects may also be requested). No indication is given as to the estimated volumes per language.

Providers will also be expected to meet a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) when delivering services against the framework. For example, telephone calls (OPI) will need to be connected to an interpreter within 60 seconds and video calls (VRI) should be linked to an interpreter within 60 seconds of a confirmed appointment.

The tolerance for failing to meet the benchmarks is low — with the threshold for achieving these thresholds set at 95%. 

The UK’s healthcare sector — championed by the NHS — is a major buyer of language services within the public sector. Other large healthcare frameworks awarded in the UK in recent years have included the HealthcareTrust Europe contract (GBP 250m) and the NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) contract (GBP 125m). These frameworks were awarded to a total of 29 and 16 providers, respectively, both in 2021.

The new contract will attract the attention of public sector interpreting specialists operating in the UK. The likes of thebigword, LanguageLine, ONCALL, DA Languages, The Language Shop, and Absolute Interpreting and Translations are all regular fixtures on similar contract awards.