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How i beat a private firm in an APMS bid

Dr Thomas Reichhelm is one of the few GPs to have taken on the private sector in an APMS bid – and won. Here he explains how he did it

Dr Thomas Reichhelm is one of the few GPs to have taken on the private sector in an APMS bid – and won. Here he explains how he did it

The doors to primary care have been flung open wide in recent years, with private providers welcomed to the party. Through APMS contracts, various corporate organisations are now permitted to bid

for contracts to run GP services. As a consequence, you will find yourself up against some tough competition when bidding for that little practice next door.

But don't despair. Having won two such tenders against the likes of Care UK and ADP Healthcare – to mention just a couple –

I'm in a decent position to provide a few useful tips.

Decide on a model and go for it

I am one of six partners at a traditional general practice with little previous experience of bidding for PCT tenders.

We decided to have a go at tendering for a total of three hitherto singlehanded practices in a neighbouring PCT. And then, within a matter of weeks, another practice became available, this time in our own PCT area.

With the first group of practices we were left guessing at what might be desired, and on whether to bid for one or two or go for the whole lot.

We decided on the latter, linking up the three and turning them into one organisation. Whatever you decide, go for it and convince them of your model.

But before we get to that, let's look at the fundamentals of the bidding process and what may be required. There is anecdotal evidence that some GPs' bids have been failing through some fairly basic errors.

Get a support structure in place

To start with, you should make sure you have all the support needed within your practice, as tendering is time-consuming.

Our model was to release one partner and the practice manager to do the work. Naturally, as you go along you might need to draw on the strengths of other members of the team.

The typical tendering process will go through several stages, from an initial expression of interest, through a prequalification questionnaire (PQQ) to more detailed and specific tendering documentation.

Get the basics right

Before going any further, it is important to stick to some very basic principles:

• Read what is asked of you and read it carefully and stick to the requested format and volume. Make sure you do not miss deadlines and that you get your documents to the right place via the route requested.

• Do not at any stage assume anything. In particular, do not assume the PCT selection panel knows your practice and that you do not therefore have to provide full details. Spell everything out. I am aware of failed bids that were simply too brief.

When asked about your clinical governance arrangements, don't just say you have them – describe them in detail.

• If you're not sure, request further information. It really does never hurt to ask. But be aware of the rules, as you might not be allowed to talk to certain key stakeholders.

• Do your homework.

You might be in the area already or come from outside, but there is always information to find out. Make yourself knowledgeable on local issues, the history of the practice you're bidding for and how it might be affected by Government and PCT policy.

What's in the local development plan? And how about the state of practice-based commissioning in the area?

• Show some vision if you can!

Understand the practice's needs

You may not be allowed to speak directly to existing staff at the practice you're bidding for, but it is worth considering discussing the issues it faces with neighbouring practices or the LMC.

One of the main things GPs have in their favour – unlike many private sector providers – is that they are already in the game. It's an attribute worth taking advantage of.

A key step is finding out about the particular needs of the population served by the practice, and being able to demonstrate you will be sensitive to these.

For example you may just find that, at the practice you are bidding for, continuity of care and stability are much more valued than extended hours.

After the initial stages, there will usually be at least one presentation to give to the PCT and often members of the public and relevant interest groups.

In one of our bids we had to present to a church packed with patients, the church being the only building large enough to hold such a large congregation.

It may be worthwhile deciding who might be best suited to what can be a rather nerve-wracking experience, bearing in mind you might be up against some fairly polished performers.

Get your sums right

When it comes to the financial side of the tender, it's important to remember who you might be up against.

Among the competition will often be companies that will not shy away from substituting GPs with nurses and using call centres and other means to keep the costs low.

This means their bids will be very hard to compete with. Given the financial pressures most of our PCTs are under, they are likely to go for a pragmatic bid, rather than one that has built in all things desirable.

When bidding for several practices, it's important to treat each tender on its own merit. You should never use documents you have used before elsewhere – it will show.

Rather, GPs who take an individual approach will stand out from the crowd of private companies launching generic bids.

One frequently asked question is whether a GP bid is likely to do better if backed with glossy documentation.

The feedback we got from the two PCTs we have been involved with was that the glossiness of publication doesn't matter so much – what matters is the substance and not the polish.

However, I would recommend involving accountants to produce the financial section of the bid, as that was a suggestion made by one PCT official.

Tendering is a daunting task, but by no means an impossible one.

And whether you're successful or not, it's always worth asking for feedback from the panel, which it is obliged to give you. It will help you in future projects.

Dr Thomas Reichhelm is a GP in West Malling, Kent

Key points

Don't despair - you will face tough competition in bids for APMS contracts, but with proper organisation they can be won

Make sure you have sufficient support to make your bid

Do your homework, assume nothing and make sure you know what the PCT wants

Understand the needs of your community, and make your local knowledge a selling point

You do not need glossy documents, but you do need to ensure you have got your figures right

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