Procurement - Rules GP businesses need to know

CCGs must follow strict rules when advertising and awarding service contracts, says Polly Ellison.

Supplier list available under AQP (Photograph: iStock)

With the threat of reduction to GP income, many GPs are looking at new ways of maximising practice income. If a group of GPs are looking to start their own healthcare provider business then they need to become acquainted with the rules of procurement.

Public bodies, including PCTs/clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) (known as a contracting authority), must follow rules when advertising and awarding contracts for goods, services and building works. This ensures that public money contracts are awarded fairly, on an open, competitive and non-discriminatory basis.

Healthcare providers may challenge non-compliances by the contracting authority, which may result in invalid contracts, damages or the contracting authority having to start the procurement process again. Prospective providers should keep an eye on the contracting authority's tendering process to ensure compliance.

Procurement rules
The EU procurement rules apply if the contract value is more than specified financial thresholds (for example more than £156,442 for supplies (goods) and services).

Even where contracts are not subject to the full EU regime, they may still need to be suitably advertised to ensure transparency, as well as compliance with any organisational internal rules.

The full procurement regime does not apply to certain categories of services (including health and social services) even if they exceed the thresholds, although these must be procured in compliance with the general principles. These general principles include transparency, non-discriminatory treatment and the provision to bidders of sufficient information and time and clear, specified criteria which are adhered to. In specific circumstances, contracts can be called off under a pre-run compliant framework agreement which saves costs and time.

The DoH has developed NHS Supply2Health, the mandatory PCT procurement portal for clinical services. This provides a single source of information for advertisements where the PCT is the contracting authority. The DoH publication, Procurement guide for commissioners of NHS funded services applies to PCTs.

Another aspect of the procurement process to remember is any qualified provider (AQP). This mechanism provides a list of possible accredited suppliers from whom services can be purchased, making the procurement process simpler and less risky for commissioners.

This model allows a range of providers to apply without conducting a formal tender process. Providers meeting the accreditation criteria will ordinarily be awarded a standard contract, but there is no commitment to purchase services or guarantee the volume of supply.

An unsuccessful supplier may obtain further information about the process previously undisclosed by the contracting authority, or challenge the process for non-compliance. Any benefit arising from a challenge should be balanced with the cost of making the challenge and any damage to the relationship with the contracting authority.

  • Polly Ellison is a company secretary at Portal Health Cheltenham Ltd, supported by Foot Anstey LLP, solicitors.

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