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Thursday, 15 November 2018

Capita slammed over 'appalling' delays in 40,000 smear test letters

Written by Ella Pickover

A private company hired to perform various back-office tasks for the NHS in England has been slammed after it emerged that more than 40,000 women had not been sent the appropriate smear test information.

The British Medical Association (BMA) claimed that up to 48,500 women have not received information regarding cervical cancer screening after a system error at Capita - which has been contracted to provide various support services across England.

Part of Capita's contract with the NHS is to produce and send invitation, reminder and results letters to women eligible for the screening programme.

But from January to June this year, approximately 43,200 women due to receive invitation and reminder letters were sent an invitation letter or a reminder, but not both.

Meanwhile 4,508 screening results letters have been delayed this year.

Capita said that "only a small proportion of these results required further examination, and they should all have been contacted directly by their GP".

But the BMA said the blunder could have put patients at risk and called on NHS England to take the back office support services back "in house".

Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the union's GP committee, said: "This is an incredibly serious situation, and it is frankly appalling that patients may now be at risk because of this gross error on the part of Capita.

"Some women will now be left extremely anxious because they have not received important correspondence, particularly letters about abnormal smear test results that need urgent follow up.

"This has been caused solely by Capita's incompetence.

"Since it took responsibility for GP back room functions three years ago, Capita's running of these services has been nothing short of shambolic and after repeated warnings from the BMA and government, this is now clear evidence that its failings have put patient safety - and possibly lives - at risk.

"It is ultimately NHS England that bears overall responsibility and it must now take this service back in-house."

An NHS England spokeswoman said: "Capita has alerted NHS England to an administrative failure in its processing of cervical screening, which means some women have not received invitation, reminder and result letters when they should have.

"Every woman's case is being reviewed, but there is no current evidence that this incident has led to harm to the women involved, and our priority now is to ensure that anyone affected by this incident is contacted, and knows how to get checked if they are due a cervical screen."

In a statement, Capita said: "Primary Care Support England (PCSE), the contract delivered by Capita on behalf of NHS England, is addressing an issue relating to issuing invitation and reminder letters regarding cervical screening correspondence.

"Letters are being sent to all women who have experienced a delay in receiving cervical screening correspondence.

"Additionally, there has been an issue relating to issuing results letters.

"The risk to women of this incident is low and there is no current evidence of harm, but Capita nevertheless apologises to both the NHS and to the women whose correspondence was delayed.

"We have appointed an independent audit team, led by PwC, to carry out a detailed review into operational systems and processes in PCSE."

Earlier this year, the National Audit Office published its investigation into back office NHS services provided by Capita.

Among other findings, the NAO reported that Capita had incorrectly notified 87 women that they were no longer part of the cervical screening programme, though no harm was found to have come to any of those involved.

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