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MPs scrutinise troubled NHS outsourcing contract

08/11/16

Claims of uneven service and losses of patient records prompt Commons debate

The £330 million NHS Primary Care Support Services contract with Capita is to be the topic of a debate this evening in the House of Commons

Westminster at nightCoventry North West MP Geoffrey Robinson has tabled the adjournment debate, with Robinson claiming the Government should look at compensating GPs for issues arising from the outsourcing contract - a contract acknowledged as being in trouble by both Capita and its customer, NHS England.

The latter struck a deal last September with Capita to handle the transfer of patient files from surgery to surgery after a patient moves.

Critics - primarily, doctors and doctor groups - have said the outsourcing move has been a failure, with many files not being delivered on time. For example, the BBC reported on Monday how over 9,000 patients' records in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex have gone missing - a report that the vendor is quoted as “not recognising” in the story.

But the same report includes a comment from its customer, NHS England, that confirms how uneven service has been: “We know there have been serious issues with services delivered by Capita which have had an unacceptable impact on practices… we are ensuring [the vendor] takes urgent steps to improve services.”

In May, soon after the service went live, it promised to “hold Capita to account” over the disruption to service many GPs reported.

The aim of the programme, says NHS England, is to save money - ideally, 40% of the current annual £100m cost of provision of the service. But critics say the transition to the new regime wasn't planned or resourced well enough.

Capita’s position, in a recent statement to a doctors’ publication, is that, “NHS England asked Capita to transform what was a locally agreed, fragmented primary care support service, to a national standardised system.

“Our focus has always been to ensure we achieve an efficient, effective and modern service, that reduces the administrative burden on primary care staff.

“It is inevitable, that with such significant structure change, there will be initial challenges. However, we have been and are continuing to, work closely with NHS England to ensure the service is delivered at an optimal level.”

But the chorus of criticism is only getting louder, it seems. Website Campaign4Change.com for example, claims to have been contacted by a patient who says their medical records were requested at the beginning of June 2016 when they changed to another health centre about two miles away.

“[I] phoned Capita today and was told there was no record of this request and to get my solicitor to contact them. Then they put the phone down. I don’t have and cannot afford a solicitor. I urgently need my medical records with my new doctor and am feeling helpless and extremely stressed by this.”

The site’s co-founder, veteran IT journalist Tony Collins, goes on to state that, “It would be of more use if MPs today debated the role of NHS England in the award of the GP support contract.

“Blaming Capita will do little good. The supplier will face some minor financial penalties and will continue to receive what it is contractually due.

“Countless National Audit Office reports show how contracts between the public and private sectors, when it comes to the crunch, strongly protect the supplier’s interests. The public sector doesn’t usually have a leg to stand on.

“A focus today on Capita would be a missed opportunity to do some lasting good,” he writes.

 

Image: iStock/tony4urban

 

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