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Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Scathing report finds outsourced NHS back office contract was a 'shambles'

Written by Ella Pickover

The hiring of a private company employed to perform various back-office tasks for the NHS in England "was a shambles", MPs have said.

In a scathing report on NHS England's outsourcing of primary care support services to Capita, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that neither party understood the service that was being contracted.

Failures have disrupted health workers and also "potentially have also put patients at risk of serious harm", the MPs on the Committee said.

And once problems came to light, not enough was done to stop the issues getting worse, they added.

Capita was hired to perform various back-office tasks for NHS England but failed to deliver on key aspects of its service.

The seven-year contract was agreed in 2015 with the aim of reducing primary care support service costs by 35%, with a view to modernising the service.

Primary care support services include: organising payments to GP practices, opticians and pharmacies; administering the pensions of GPs; confirming that GPs, dentists and opticians in the NHS are suitably qualified; sending out letters for those eligible for cervical screening and processing patient registrations and de-registrations.

But the service has suffered a number of setbacks, including doctors reporting problems with the transfer of medical documents, and problems caused by shortages of stock in the NHS supply chain.

The PAC report states: "NHS England's outsourcing of primary care support services to Capita Business Services Ltd (Capita) was a shambles.

"Capita recognises that the service it provided was not good enough. Its failures have not only been disruptive to thousands of GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists, but potentially have also put patients at risk of serious harm."

The report accuses NHS England of being "focused on maximising financial savings quickly, at the expense of service quality".

It said that "failure" to deliver services led to 1,000 GPs, dentists and opticians being delayed from working with patients.

Meanwhile, delays in moving medical records from one practice to another meant patients may not have been able to access necessary care.

And 87 women were incorrectly notified that they were no longer part of the cervical screening programme, the report adds.

PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier said: "NHS England made a complete mess of what could have been a responsible measure to save taxpayers' money.

"It is clearly unacceptable that poor procurement should put patients at risk of harm and undermine the ability of GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists to do their jobs.

"NHS England needs to rethink its approach to outsourcing and invest time in getting its contracts right.

"The dismal fall-out here, with NHS England and Capita squabbling over details that should have been agreed in 2015, tells its own sorry tale."

A Capita spokesman said: "Capita has apologised for unacceptable failings in relation to the initial delivery of this contract.

"We are now meeting the vast majority of key performance targets, and have put in place a new governance arrangement with NHS England to ensure improvement continues.

"Capita is committed to delivering this contract and its vital purpose: digital transformation for NHS support services that were previously paper-based, fragmented and without national standards.

"We are focused on delivering a 21st century digital service that works for NHS practitioners."

An NHS England spokesman said: "We will continue to work with medical professionals and Capita to resolve the historic issues which this look-back report reviews, but by making this change over the past two years, the NHS has successfully saved taxpayers £60 million, which has been successfully reinvested in frontline NHS patient care, funding the equivalent of an extra 30,000 operations."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Matthews / PA Wire.