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Bidding for APMS contracts

Justin Cumberlege and Paul Samrah explain what practices can do to increase the odds of being successful when tendering to provide services under an APMS contract.

Alternative provider medical services (APMS) contracts enable PCTs until 31 March 2013 and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England to commission services from the provider they consider will deliver improved access and greater responsiveness to patients and be cost-effective. 

NHS contracts for which tenders are currently sought are advertised on NHS Supply2Health.

Bidders can be from the public, private or third (voluntary/non-profit) sectors, so a GP practice or group of practices, which wants to tender for a contract, could be competing against very different organisations.

So if your practice is planning to bid, what should you find out about in advance?

Know the rules and be innovative

Any bidder should have a clear understanding of the statutory APMS Directions. These set out the mandatory requirements for APMS contracts and also give PCTs/CCGs the flexibility to shape services that are sensitive to the needs of their local communities.

Do read and re-read the tender invitation: ensure that you can meet the criteria, and make certain that you are able to meet the deadline for the various stages of the tendering process. Get legal advice on the terms and conditions.

Be aware that at the start of the tendering process, that if the CCG is commissioning the service, it may not know what the service will 'look like'. Unlike PCTs, which tend to be process driven, CCGs are expected to be outcomes-focused: once a CCG has identified the result it wants, the provider has to show how it can deliver. This approach may encourage more innovative solutions to problems faced. 

Consider EU tendering regulations

The process will follow the requirements for tendering set out in European Union’s (EU’s) regulations for public procurement of services even though the regulations may not be legally applicable. These regulations seek to achieve fairness and transparency in the award of tenders, but can seem excessively bureaucratic.

Review your team’s capabilities to ensure it at least matches the contract’s requirements. Be clear about the contract services you will deliver and state what your unique offering will be and find out who your competitors are. Also consider if you should join forces with others to achieve success.

Show you are prepared. It is important to recognise that completing the tender documentation is not about filling in the boxes with words the CCG wants to read. It is about proving that you have undertaken all the vital preparatory work to ensure successful implementation. Your focus should be on the CCG’s needs and how you can solve its problems. You will need to ensure that you have shown how your organisation has the skills, experience and resources to fulfil the CCG’s requirements.

Put clinical effectiveness first

Quality is the overriding principle. The main thrust of your presentation should be on clinical effectiveness, safety and patient experience. Providers will be judged on outcomes and this should drive your approach to the tender. To improve outcomes, there must be a strong connection between design and delivery.

Disclose conflicts of interest

All parties involved with your bid must disclose all potential conflicts of interest at the outset. A legal challenge may be made if there is evidence of a perceived potential conflict of interest, whether this is real or not, if you have not addressed it.

If you believe that you were treated unfairly and the contract has been awarded to the wrong party, you must raise your objections within days of the result in order to have the opportunity of overturning the decision.

Stay focused despite strong competition

Providers often feel threatened that their ideas and creative energies will be used to improve another organisation’s bid and that they risk of losing intellectual capital. This is particularly the case when discussions are put into the public domain and shared with other bidders. However it is the same for every bidder. Remember: ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’.

Learn from the tendering process?Whether you are successful in winning the contract, writing a tender can help significantly to clarify your own aims, strengths and weaknesses. Your organisation can learn and become stronger for the next time it tenders for a provider contract by asking for feedback on your bid.

As submitting evenan unsuccessful tender can significantly raise your profile with the CCG and may help you learn more about its needs, it should not be a waste of time.

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