GPs must maintain contract-winning ways

Imagine you are planning some work at your surgery, an extension perhaps. How would you go about selecting someone to do the work? What criteria might you apply in awarding the contract?

Experience in the type of work required, for a start. A conservatory supplier may have some idea about erecting structures but that's not the same as having all the requisite skills for a surgery extension. A proven ability to deliver the desired results on time and within a budget would be useful. Have they built a similar extension for someone else?

Cost-effectiveness. Will you acquire a top-notch, high-quality facility or an adequate, just-about-ticks-the-boxes building? For that matter, do they retain good staff?

And finally is there any customer feedback to show they are popular with their clients?

If you take these factors into account, it should come as little or no surprise that a GP investigation has found that 70 per cent of PCT-awarded contracts to run GP practices in England have gone to GPs rather than large private providers. This is despite a general impression that big business was gaining the upper hand.

GPs and GP-led companies can definitely show a track record in providing cost-effective primary healthcare at an average of less than 20p per patient per day. They continue to deliver despite cuts, NHS restructuring and a host of other obstacles.

Plus there is the great customer feedback, with patients placing a high priority on continuity of care.

It is hard for a national or multinational health provider with little primary care involvement to show the same strengths.

In the short term, GPs should not be too frightened by healthy secretary Alan Johnson's prediction that 'lots' of the new Darzi-plan health centres will be run by private companies employing salaried GPs.

On the other hand, it is important not to become too complacent about the high success rate for GP-led bids so far. Without vigilance the tide could turn in favour of the larger companies and the face of primary care changed forever.

The 30 per cent of contracts awarded to non-GP organisations mean that other providers will start to gain experience in primary care, which in turn will help their future bids by ending the GP monopoly on experience.

But more importantly, without a steady stream of entrepreneurial GPs willing to take on the extra responsibility of a group of practices, traditional primary care will start to lose out.

Therefore it is essential that younger GPs are encouraged into partnership roles and to think about the business of general practice.


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