Independent optometrists have been effectively locked out of tendering for a highly lucrative federal Government tender to supply optometry services to the Australian Defence Force (ADF), a leading optical industry figure has claimed.
Eyecare Plus CEO Michael Jacobs says the Joint Health Command tender for ADF Health Services specifically requires a single national service contract to deliver all off base health care services, including optometry.
The provision of optometry services to the ADF is estimated to be worth about AUD$6.8 million annually.
Joint Health Command provides health services to approximately 60,000 ADF personnel and 25,000 active reservists. Tenders for the Health Services contract closed in mid-October, and the federal Government anticipates that the transition of the new contractors will be completed by June next year.
Whether it’s deliberate or accidental, this tender excludes independent participation, and this is from a government department that is supposed to show favour to Australian industry and small business
Mr. Jacobs said the requirement for a single contractor means that optometry services will, in effect, be sub-contracted to one of the large health care providers.
“Many of these providers have shown they’re not interested in dealing with independents, and even larger groups of independents such as Eyecare Plus,” Mr. Jacobs said.
He said just as the Joint Health Command required a single contractor, that contractor would in turn, be likely to seek a single organisation that could provide optometry services at a national level.
“They (the successful contractor) are not likely to be going to 100 or 200 independent optometrists, they’re going to go to the corporates – Luxottica and Specsavers, both privately owned overseas companies.
“Whether it’s deliberate or accidental, this tender excludes independent participation, and this is from a government department that is supposed to show favour to Australian industry and small business,” Mr. Jacobs said.
He said there was considerable disquiet in the independent industry about the tender.
The Optometrists Association of Australia (OAA) was not officially consulted about the tendering strategy.
“When we heard about the likely process, the Association sought to have meetings with Defence and the responsible minister however these requests were refused,” OAA Board Chair Andrew Harris said in
a statement to mivision.
“The Association has always maintained that every optometrist should be given the chance to complete equally and fairly, for tenders and the winning tender should be based on the merits of the offer.
“The structure of the tender… is a novel approach to seeking optometry services as well as the other off base services. It will mean that optometrists will need to work with other non‑optometry healthcare providers to join together to form a larger consortia to bid for the full suite of off base healthcare services” Mr. Harris said.
He said the change to contracting could have an “enormous impact” on members currently delivering services under the previous arrangements.
The successful applicant will be offered an initial four-year contract period with potential to extend for a further two years at the discretion of the Department of Defence.
The Defence Department media unit said the underlying principle of any Commonwealth procurement process was achieving value for money.
“This RTF (request for tender) was not an exception and the best value for money, together with complying with the requirements of the Defence-wide Strategic Reform Program, were the only objectives that dictated the current structure of the RFT,” a Department spokesperson said in a statement to mivision.
The spokesperson said there was an extensive consultation process ahead of the release of the RFT.
The RFT allows for smaller service providers to join consortiums in order to participate, the spokesperson said.
“Defence was mindful not to unnecessarily ‘cut off’ the current service providers … Defence has facilitated a list of parties interested in participating in a consortium.”
The spokesperson said the Defence Department had received only two complaints about the RFT from the optical industry, and that these had been properly investigated.