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Are you bidding for a practice?

Bidding for other practices is becoming more common – here Dr Martin Whiting gives advice on how to devise an effective plan

Bidding for a new practice is daunting and requires considerable planning. In order to ease the process I suggest a step-by-step plan with simple headings.

First answer the question 'Do I want to bid?'

To do this perform a SWOT analysis. Within your team you're bound to have both optimists and pessimists. Try to cherish the pessimists as they will point out any weaknesses and highlight the questions that need to be answered later in your plan.

You decide to bid, so who leads the team? And what sort of mandate do they have?

Deciding on leadership is vital to success. I would suggest at least one senior doctor and the practice manager are the most likely people to lead a bid. They will need your backing, protected time and a clear idea of when to report back. It will be up to them to write your plan, find an opportunity to test your ideas, work out the costs associated with bidding and decide if you, as a practice team, have the resources to cope.

It is much cheaper to write an effective plan and decide not to go forward than it is to make the mistake of taking on a service that you cannot provide. You should also consider that any plan you write would form part of a formal bid document, so the time will not be wasted.

What does a plan contain?

It needs to be kept simple, and starts with an 'executive summary', the most difficult part to write. This is especially important when it's in a bid document; your summary catches the eye of the selection committee and should entice them to read on.

I don't think you need to worry that your language will not appear to be smooth 'businessese' as sometimes approaching such a document in a more realistic general practice style will differentiate you from some of the commercial bids on the table and is likely to help rather than hinder.The next three standard headings are 'the industry', 'the market' and 'competitive analysis'. These naturally run together and cover the current environment around your practice together with local trends and developments – what's happening in terms of changes in demographics, morbidity and mortality and what local services are changing. This section summarises the current climate both locally and nationally and draws attention to where you fit in. This is the place to include your unique selling points (USPs). It should be especially easy for you to list these, as in contrast to commercial bidders from outside the area you will have considerable local knowledge and will already be providing a high-quality local service.Your plan should now move on to include the 'marketing plan'. This is a new concept in most GPs' minds. Don't forget you have a number of target audiences and stakeholders. As you will be a local NHS supplier, local politicians and journalists are your friends; they will be interested in seeing local services kept local and succeeding. Consider to whom, when and how you will market your service. There are clear rules associated with marketing in health care and these are laid out in GMC guidance. Your local LMC will also provide guidance.Next, look at how you're going to make the new part of your business work. This is often called the 'management plan' or sometimes the 'operational plan'. Here you should consider questions about location, facilities, equipment, changes in training and roles. For example consider whether you'll need external support from your practice accountant, and whether there are any specific blocks to your progress that need to be overcome.It may be worthwhile considering a brainstorming session using relevant staff members to answer questions about changes needed to be successful after the bid.Lastly, you should construct a 'financial plan'. It goes without saying that there should be a cash-flow forecast and an eventual financial objective. You should be clear about your break-even point and about the timescale to achieve this. This will show whether you need additional funding and how you will provide it.I also consider that any plan should include additional elements not often found in business planning guides. You can include evidence from a variety of sources; someone you know or can contact has almost certainly has made a similar bid and been successful.You should also include successes in your track record. In my opinion, most critically, a clinical governance plan should be included. I would also suggest your criteria for failure and success should be laid out as you may wish to negotiate suitable break clauses.

Dr Martin Whiting is a GP in Cheetham, Manchester

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