Soon the successful bidders in the race to run 150 new GP-led health centres across England will be announced.
Speculation is rife over who will win the contracts, and whether the procurement process is biased towards large multinational companies. What is certain is that despite a laborious tendering process, it is possible for local GPs to beat private firms to primary care contracts.
With the DoH making it clear that the future of general practices involves competition with the private sector and with each other, GPs will want to know the secret to a winning tender.
Here, two of the most successful GP-led organisations show how good quality, local care can persuade PCTs to ignore the private sector for now.
Case Study: Take Care Now Ltd, Suffolk
- Three-year 'accountable provider' contract
- Started August 2008
- Design and implement new sexual health community services across Suffolk PCT. www.takecarenow.co.uk
Dr James Kennedy believes a good record is essential to win contracts
Dr James Kennedy is medical director of Take Care Now Ltd (TCN), which was created from Suffolk Doctors on call. 'It is the fourth largest co-op in the UK with over 400 members now. We have competed for out-of-hours tenders and specialist services like sexual health,' said Dr Kennedy who is a GP in Middlesex.
'This year we won contracts to provide out of hours in Great Yarmouth, South West Essex and Worcestershire, giving us 1 million more out-of-hours patients. Our most recent tender was for sexual health for Suffolk.'
He explains that TCN will be the accountable provider of sexual health services in the area and that the GP-owned company is working closely with existing providers and hospitals to redesign the services and will begin to implement them in April next year.
'A number of things have helped us win the contract. We have a track record of delivering patient-focused, high-quality care for the past 14 years. I can't emphasise that strongly enough: You have to put the patient's needs at the centre of your bid.
'You also need strong corporate capability - strong human resources, finance and IT. It's about a marriage of clinicians, nurses, pharmacists and managers, all of whom are important.'
The tendering process is long and complex for almost all types of contract, not just the new wave of Darzi centres, warns Dr Kennedy. 'It really is extremely time-consuming and complex, Byzantine even. Time scales frequently slip. It is a considerable investment of time, resources and intellectual energy, as well as blood, sweat and tears!'
'You have to put the patient's needs at the centre of your bid. But you also need strong corporate capability - strong human resources, finance and IT.' Dr James Kennedy
Case Study: Bolton General Practice, Lancashire
- Five-year APMS contract under Fairness in Primary Care Procurement scheme for under-doctored areas
- Opened June 2008
- Offers Darzi report-specified services Monday to Friday 8am - 7pm, Saturday 9am to 12.30pm. www.ssphealth.com
Dr Sanjay Pitalia: "We're up against national healthcare companies"
Dr Sanjay Pitalia, together with his wife Shikha, also a GP, have won tenders for 11 practices in the north west over the past six years with their company SSP Health. They most recently won the tender to provide services at Bolton General Practice, and have applied to run Bolton's GP-led health centre.
'After the PCT advertised nationally, over 100 bidders sent in expressions of interest. After the pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) only five or six of us were invited to submit tenders,' says Dr Pitalia. 'We know now we were up against national healthcare companies.'
Dr Pitalia says working with staff who will run the business that his company bids for is essential to completing the tendering documentation, rather than outsourcing the work.
'We have local people working for us with many years experience in senior management. We all work together on the documents rather than employing people to write up tendering documents. Three different practices could send them to a consultant, and all will get the same version of the forms back, despite having different approaches.'
Dr Pitalia believes that if GPs can provide evidence of the highest standards of clinical care, they will win tenders.
'I think it is a very arduous and lengthy process, but we are local GPs, with a long history of a very high standard of care, and we can demonstrate that,' he says.
He points out that tendering requires a huge amount of resources including a full set of policies, methodologies and a solid evidence base.
More GP winners
- Greenbrook Healthcare, run by six GPs from the Brook Green Medical Centre, Hammersmith, West London, saw off 41 other bids to run six practices in Middlesex.
- GPs from the King Street Surgery, Bedfordshire, beat several multinationals to win a bid to take over the Putnoe Medical Centre, Bedfordshire, on an APMS contract.
- The Practice plc, a GP and nurse-led company, has won bids to run numerous practices and provide services across eight PCTs. It was named Health Investor primary care group of the year in July.
- Dr Thomas Reichhelm and his nine GP partner group recently won a contract to run four APMS practices in Kent, including the £1million Staplehurst Health Centre.