I am a GP in Southend where South East Essex PCT is planning to build a 'mini-Darzi centre' comprising a healthy living centre with attached GP-led service and pharmacy. My partner Dr Bilquis Agha and I have joined up with a nearby single-handed practice to bid for the contract for the centre.
We met last month's deadline for submitting our outline bid, called the pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ), on time. We should find out on 19 August if we have made it to the next stage: becoming a 'selected bidder' and able to put in a formal tender.
Having never done anything like this before, we found it really hard to obtain information on how to go through the bidding process.
Contrary to what the DoH claims, it appears that the dice are heavily loaded towards large, private-sector companies that can tap into their experience of tendering for contracts and providing services when putting together bids for primary care contracts.
The closest practice to the new centre's site is the single-handed GP we are jointly bidding with, so joining forces made good sense as our surgery is an adjacent area and we have a good relationship with our colleague. We can pool resources and share the workload and associated costs.
Our strength in this endeavour is having an understanding of local health needs. And we hope that having the new centre built on our doorsteps will prove a key advantage compared to bidders from outside the area.
Having decided to bid we soon recognised that we needed expert help. After trawling the internet and looking at a great many websites, we teamed up with a firm called Healthworks, which has given us excellent support and guided us through the daunting maze of forms.
There is no doubt in my mind that if GPs are going to compete with the 'big boys', we need help with tendering, no matter how good we think our general practice business skills are. While there is a lot of work practices can do themselves on document preparation and information gathering, putting the material together coherently and persuasively requires expert guidance.
The bidding process is subject to a strict time line whether, like our bid, it is for one of the new GP-led health centres or for another primary healthcare contract. Bidders must follow the time line: there are crucial cut-off dates for submissions that, if missed, mean your bid automatically fails.
The stages we have so far gone through involved studying the memorandum of interest (MoI) document about the contract on offer; submitting our expression of interest (EoI) by 30 May; receiving the PQQ (issued 9 May); attending a bidders' question and answer event (18 June) and submitting our completed PQQ (11 July).
The PQQ is very important as the selected bidders are chosen on the basis of what has been included in it. With good planning and delegation, we found that it can be completed within a short time scale.
There is scope in the PQQ to showcase all the good work you currently do and the successes you have achieved.
You can highlight relevant groups or committees the practice is involved with and the level of interaction your practice already has with services commissioners and providers. The PQQ took about 10 working days to complete, including time spent working with the Healthworks team.
Devil in the details
One crucial piece of advice for GP bidders is to ensure you read the format and arrangements for the delivery of the PQQ very carefully. Our completed forms had to be put on to a CD and sent with accompanying paper documents. If we are successful, we will be receive an invitation to tender (ITT) and the hard work will really begin.
Out of perhaps 30 or 40 organisations that submitted PQQs, just four or five will receive ITTs and the winning bid will be selected from ITT responses (formal tenders) before the end of 2008.
The ITT is much more formidable than the PQQ and consists of more than 70 documents. Responding will involve compiling a detailed business plan complete with financial costs (the price at which we believe we can deliver the contract). Once again there will be a tight deadline to meet to stay in the running as the ITT must be completed by 29 September.
- Dr Siddique is a GP in Southend, Essex (email@example.com)
Stages in our bid
1. Study MoI (Memorandum of Interest)
2. Submit EoI (Expression of Interest) by 30 May 2008.
3. PQQ (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire) issued 9 June.
4. Bidders event (Q&A session) on 18 June.
5. Complete and submit the PQQ by 11 July.
6. If PQQ successful, notification of selected bidder status by 19 August.
7. Complete and submit invitation to tender (ITT) by 29 September.
- www.newchurch.co.uk (healthcare business consultants)
- www.ogc.gov.uk (Office of Government Commerce for details of documentation and templates for tendering processes).
Information the PQQ asks for includes:
- Details about the organisation/people bidding.
- Legal and regulatory information, equal opportunities and health and safety policies.
- Clinical and general capacity to provide services.
- Three years' worth of audited accounts.
- References (from others) about your organisation.
- Details about the services you plan and how you propose to implement them.