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Minister criticises but sticks with Capita over PCS



Parliamentary debate on Primary Care Service contract leads to acknowledgement of shortcomings – then a refusal to move the service back in-house

Minister for Public Health and Innovation Nicola Blackwood told the House of Commons this week that she believed supplier Capita did not properly prepare for taking on a major NHS outsourcing contract – but that the Government is not intending to take the deal away from the company.

Taking part in an adjournment debate on the troubled seven year, £330 million PCS (Primary Care Support) contract the supplier took over in September 2015, Blackwood expressed her view that Capita’s poor performance has had an “unacceptable impact on patients”, and that so far the supplier has failed to maintain the previous quality of services.

Capita was tasked with delivering big cost savings and efficiencies to a health service system for moving patent records to new surgeries, which had been costing the NHS over £80 million per year. The company aimed to reduce this to a figure around £47 million, a 30% saving if achieved.

But its operation of PCS has been dogged by controversy since its start, with claims that GPs have failed to receive patient records on time and that patient registrations have been subject to delays. This prompted the Commons debate, tabled by Coventry North West MP Geoffrey Robinson.

Blackwood (pictured) said it is now “evident that Capita were inadequately prepared for delivering this complex transition”, even though all bids for PCS were assessed for both quality and cost, and had been scrutinised by both the Department of Health and the Treasury.

But she rejected calls for the contract to be reversed back into NHS England’s care.

“A new model with an efficient and modernised process is the right approach to delivering our primary care providers with the service that they deserve,” she said. “The department and I will continue to closely scrutinise Capita and NHS England as they work to resolve current problems and build a quality service that is sustainable.”

Taking action

She outlined a number of areas in which Capita has told her it is taking action to deal with the complaints. These include the movement of patient records and the performance of the contact centre.

Blackwood added that she had been told directly by Capita that it is adding 500 more staff “at their own cost” to PCS work to get the system back on track.

GPs have indicated that has to be soon, as a poll of British Medical Association members published on Monday claims that the service is “in chaos”.

For example, 28% of the 281 GP practices that responded to the surgery claimed they’d failed to receive or have records collected from them on the agreed date with Capita, while 81% said “urgent requests for records” had not been actioned within three weeks. Meanwhile, over half said new patient registrations had not been processed within the required three days under the outsourced service.

The BMA said that Capita cannot fix the problems by itself as it does not have experience of running such a system, and that NHS England “should have been more wary regarding the procurement of this service” to the firm.

Degraded expertise

Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s general practice committee, expressed fears that the outsourcing move has degraded internal expertise at NHS England, which leaves the public sector body in a “very difficult situation” as “re-procuring it to another provider who has no experience of the NHS would also pose problems”.

NHS England responded to the BMA by stating: “We know there have been serious issues with services delivered by Capita which have had an unacceptable impact on practices, which this survey clearly shows”, and that it has “always been clear” with the supplier how critical it was for Capita to “at least maintain the previous service and quality levels” – which has “not happened”.

The Health Service Journal has reported (paywall) that Capita said it has apologised to its customer and is doing everything it can to remedy the issues.

Image by Bianca D'orsi via Wikimedia Commons

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