Three experts give a list of key contract management tips for commissioners and providers.

Negotiating the Standard NHS Contracts is a key task for commissioners and providers alike. With less money and a rapidly changing commissioning landscape, managing contractual performance effectively poses a significant challenge. Becoming familiar with the new format of the 2012/13 contract, which now covers all services, is an added pressure on teams as it goes to the wire in these final weeks of negotiation.

The NHS is no stranger to targets and the 2012/13 contract is no different, with the setting of targets and the management of performance against them.

Dos and Don’ts – the contract management checklist

  • Don’t simply put the contract on the shelf once signed. Spend time reading and understanding the contract, particularly the contract management and dispute resolution procedures. Your lawyers can be helpful here by providing a contract summary, or flow charts of the key processes.
  • Don’t neglect your commissioner / provider – make sure you have a clear timetable of contract meetings which you keep to and always agree the agenda in advance.
  • Don’t forget to feedback to the other party – clear and honest feedback will help develop and sustain a productive relationship and avoid disputes.
  • Don’t just involve clinicians during negotiations, their involvement is crucial year-round.
  • Don’t forget April comes quickly.
  • Do flow down your knowledge of key contract processes to members of your internal contract management team.
  • Do use the contract mechanisms to resolve disputes before going to the dispute resolution procedure where possible. Use of the DRP is likely to damage relationships.
  • Do use your IT systems to your advantage and consider investing in systems to assist you: an effective data monitoring system can be invaluable for contract management and can save time and money in the long run if used effectively;
  • As a provider, do notify the commissioner in line with the contract if you think you may breach or not meet targets with consequences attached to them to see if you can resolve the issue before it is escalated.
  • As a commissioner, do keep your provider informed of your strategic plans for the services as far as possible, and work with them to resolve any key issues.
  • Do agree clear outcomes, process and tolerances prior to contract signing to know when and how issues are raised.
  • Do ensure any changes to services and pathways are articulated in plans before implementation to ensure that challenges are real and not a result of poor planning or communication.
  • Do agree local escalation process.