Commissioning an NHS Website

05/01/2016 by Phil Shackleton

In an organisation as complex as an NHS Trust or CCG, commissioning a new website can be a daunting process. The website needs to meet the needs of all users, both staff and patients. Mixd has worked with a number of NHS Foundation Trusts and CCGs, and we’ve noticed that the most successful projects start with a good (comprehensive) brief from the initial tender stage. We’ve looked at the tenders we’ve responded to and noted what they had in common, to help other Communications teams within the NHS who are commissioning websites. If you’ve already put out a tender but want tips on how to assess the responses, we’ve written an article about that, too!

Ideally, a tender process involves you defining exactly what the problem is that you want the website to solve. The responses are what the agency proposes as a solution. However, without defining everything step by step, this can mean that once the bids are in, it can be a difficult prospect to untangle what they say and compare like with like. Most procurement departments prefer not to work in this way.

By creating a substantial and clear brief that clearly defines what the website needs to do, NHS managers can be assured that the final products meets with their expectations and those of the website users.

Here is a checklist of everything that you should be considering when creating a brief for a web design agency to build your NHS website.

Who is the target audience for the website?

Do you know the main audiences and their aims? By identifying what people are looking for when they visit the website, essential information is included and clearly signposted for patients when they arrive on the site.

What does the website need to do?

  • Is it information for patients only?
  • Does it need user accounts for medical professionals to access sections of the site?
  • Does it need to interface with internal software?

Make sure that you conduct a comprehensive review among the relevant staff at the Trust or CCG to ensure that the website does everything that it needs to. Speak to all departments to find out what they think the website needs to include. Here at Mixd, to gather this kind of information we conduct research with stakeholders and end users through a variety of means, such as workshops, surveys, interviews; and using website analytics and heat mapping tools.

What would be a successful outcome?

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be clarified within the brief so the web design agency knows the standard they are working towards.

Are there specific technology requirements?

Incorporating technology and interfaces such as Patient Online needs to be addressed in the brief so that this can be factored into any tender bid.

  • Are there specific security requirements?
  • Are there any IT policies to be aware of?

The NHS handles large amounts of personal data. If private information will be inputted anywhere on the site, such as via appointment requests, then there will be a security requirement to safeguard this.

Who needs to be involved in the project?

  • While Comms might own the project, is there an IT stakeholder to assist with technical discussions?
  • What other parts of the organisation need to be involved? What time is required from them, when?
  • Have you identified who is going to be generating the content? They need to be on board from the beginning of the project.

Nominate a team of people within the trust who can be tasked with ensuring the smooth running of the website build. Make sure that your brief specifies regular contact between the team in the Trust and the agency. Also speak to colleagues in the departments across the trust to find out who can be tasked with aiding the content creation and sign off process for the website as each section is completed.

Is the budget defined?

  • Is it fixed?
  • What if it isn’t sufficient?

Conduct research to find out the average cost of a website similar to what you are hoping to commission. Make sure that you clearly specify what your budget is and if there are any additional costs suggested by the agency, clarify what these are for. It is also useful to have a contingency budget, to avoid hiccups when Policies change or new initiatives need to be communicated that weren’t known when the website was commissioned.

Is the timeline realistic?

  • Have you considered milestones?
  • What is the timescale for internal involvement from busy departments?

Make sure that you have realistic expectations for the work that the agency have to do, as well as how much time your colleagues across the CCG or Trust have to dedicate to the new website. Ask about milestones so that your team can assess the progress of the build as it happens. Regular contact means that everyone involved has an opportunity to communicate before anyone gets carried away with part of the project.

Why are you doing this project – and why now?

How will the project help achieve wider business objectives? By discussing what you want from a new website, you can help clarify for the agency what exactly it is that you need. It may be that they come up with a solution that you hadn’t pictured, based on their experience. Choosing an agency that has worked with the NHS before can provide reassurance that your chosen supplier understands the way the Organisation works and can focus on delivering an excellent solution.


If you’ve already put out a tender but not appointed your chosen supplier, you may wish to read our tips on how to assess a tender response.


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