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Making a successful bid for a competitive tender

Most GPs are worried about bidding for competitive contracts – and they are right to be. The process is expensive, time-consuming, stressful and usually you only have a one in five chance of success. These services are also much less profitable than core PMS or GMS contracts.

However, if you want to run a GP surgery being tendered or generate new revenue streams as services are transferred from hospitals, you will need to bid for competitive tenders. 

Bidding for competitive contracts is much more complicated than for AQP services, and not for the faint-hearted. Particularly for the first time, it makes sense to partner with a third party who will lead the process and allow you to observe how it all works.

The five steps that follow explain the process that we use when bidding for a competitive tender.

1 Plan your bid

The key to successful bidding is to put in place everything you need, long before the process starts.  This includes deciding what you might want to bid for. 

The starting point for this is your CCG’s annual Commissioning Intentions letter which will be published on their website.  If there is something you are interested in meet with the commissioners and discuss what they are likely to want. 

At the earliest opportunity, make an objective assessment of whether you are likely to be interested in bidding. I ask a few simple questions such as:

  • Can we provide this on our own or do we need to partner with others – if so who?
  • Is the contract about the right size for us? 
  • Does it require large amounts of upfront investment? 
  • Is it for a service we can credibly provide? 
  • Is it a new or existing service?  (A new service is often much easier because it will not have staff who will TUPE to you.  TUPE makes bidding, and subsequently managing a service, much more difficult.)
  • Can we at least cover our costs? If you cannot answer this question be careful as it suggests you don’t know enough about the service.If you don’t feel confident then don’t bid.

2 Put the bid infrastructure in place

To have any chance of success you need a bid infrastructure in place. A recent bid by the Suffolk Federation illustrates what is needed.

Our bid was led by two senior managers working full time for a month, a fortnight of GP time and £10,000 on external support.  You need to have all of this in place long before the procurement process starts. 

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Finding a professional bid writer can be difficult so start interviewing early. You will also need a legal entity for the bid, CQC registration, insurance, policies and a long list of other items. Finally, you need to have a manager and clinical lead lined-up for the new service. This needs to be an individual who can credibly run the service.  Do not leave this too late as without it your bid has little credibility.

If you cannot put all this together then look for a local partner who can lead a bid. 

3 Prepare the bid

Writing a good bid is an art and you will need your bid writer or managers expertise to ensure you follow the rules. The most important is to answer the questions as asked – not the one you would like to be asked. Always evidence any statements you make and.  Finally answer each question completely independently from each other, which means repeating yourself.

Most tenders involve two stages, although sometimes these run side by side. 

  • Stage one is the PQQ or Pre-Qualification Questionnaire. This requires a factual response to questions on your track record, financial standing, internal policies and processes, IT and property. In a two-staged process you need to pass this to get to the next stage.
  • Stage 2 is the ITT or Invitation to Tender. This is your chance to explain how your clinical model, how governance will be provided and a host of other practical questions.  It is worth thinking through, in detail, how it will all work because if you are successful you can use this for your implementation plan.   

Tenders are run through internet procurement sites through which you can ask questions and submit documents. A typical tender will be 60-80 pages long and you have one month to complete it. This illustrates the major challenge bidders have which is to deliver a lot of work in a short timescale. (If you have holidays booked these will be lost, as I found last summer).

4 Negotiate the contract

If you are successful with your bid you become Preferred Provider and enter a ‘standstill’ period when others can challenge the decision. After this you move rapidly into mobilisation.  This is an intense period of work when you negotiate the contract and start to put in place all the things needed before you can commence the service. Most of this work will be undertaken by your management and clinical leads.  It is extremely stressful as the deadlines are tight. 

5 Implement your service

Finally, you get to start your new service, which, if it goes according to plan, will be smooth and successful.  However, to achieve this you have to be ready and that means using the bidding process to think through all the issues, how these will be addressed and your Plan B – and C. 

The motto we work to is ‘no surprises’ and you only achieve this by thinking through all the issues before they arise.

David Pannell is the Chief Executive of the Suffolk GP Federation that has a membership of 60 practices.