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At the heart of general practice since 1960

GPs must sharpen their act to win PCT tenders, writes Dr James Gillgrass

Beating private firms at the tendering game

Implementation of the new GMS contract in 2004 introduced a number of new opportunities, including the option for providers other than GPs to bid for the provision of services in primary care.

GPs applying to provide services now find themselves competing not just with GP colleagues, but also with large commercial organisations.

These organisations often have significant resources available to ensure that any bid is presented in the best possible light to maximise their chances of success.

What then, can practices do to ensure they are able to compete on level terms? Some careful thought, planning and prep-aration will dramatically im- prove chances of success.

It is never too early to start developing a strategy for pre-paring a bid. Even if there is no opportunity to bid for services now, use the time wisely to gather information that might be useful when you do come to prepare your application.

Much of the information you need will be common to many applications. Once you see the advert there will inevitably be a tight deadline for completing and returning your application, so early preparation is vital. Waiting until the advert appears maybe too late to start developing your ideas.

Begin with a critical analysis of your practice. A SWOT assessment (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) would be a good starting point.

Potential threats

What are the capabilities of your organisation? What services are you providing now? Who do you use to provide them and where do you provide them? What are your organisational strengths and weaknesses? Do you have a track record of innovation and development? Does the practice have a 'unique selling point'?

Talk to other practices in the area. Are they interested in working with you to respond to potential threats? Perhaps there are opportunities to be identified at this stage for the future provision of services, such as a PCT-run practice in the vicinity which might be advertised.

Look for local and national trends and strategies, including those in White Papers and other Government documents. You will need to show in any response that you are aware of current initiatives and will be expected to outline ways in which you intend to address them.

The advert is published – what next? Obtain all the necessary papers as quickly as possible, read them and then read them again. Clues to successful completion can often be found in the tender documents. Identify the priorities in the tender and decide how you will address them in your application.

Is the tender a competition against a specification, a competition against a specification but with variant bids encouraged where you can show how you will provide services innovatively, a competition to act as a partner in developing and providing a service or are you responding to a direct approach?

It is important to know the type of tender you are bidding for.

Preparation

Having read and considered the tender you need to decide whether the practice is in a realistic position to submit a bid. The careful preparation that you have already done will give you an idea of the capabilities of the practice and if it is up to responding to the requirements of the tender.

If you are properly prepared there should be few if any surprises in the application pack you receive and you can concentrate on professional completion of the documents.

Make sure you answer questions in the tender document concisely and explain carefully how your proposals answer the PCT's needs. Facts must be accurate and if necessary supported by additional documentation.

Consider using the Freedom of Information Act, annual reports and accounts, Public Health reports, local authority information and whatever else might be appropriate to help you gather relevant information in the completion of the documents.

You will need to explain how you will manage the implementation of the new service, how it might impact on any current service you are providing, and how you will ensure that existing services will be maintained.

The financial implications of the bid need to be carefully assessed. You will need to take into account a number of factors, remembering that the PCT will be looking for value for money. Explain the benefits and cost-effectiveness of your bid and give details of your price in your documentation.

Finally, submit the application in good time, remembering to keep a copy for your records. Then it is just a matter of waiting to see if you have passed the first hurdle and will be called for interview.

James Gillgrass is chief executive of Surrey and Sussex LMCs

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