NHS contract with Capita 'potentially put patients at risk'

Cornelia Mascio
Mag 17, 2018

Patients were put at risk of cancer and other serious harm because of a botched £330 million NHS outsourcing deal, the spending watchdog has found.

Three years ago Capita was contracted by NHSE to provide primary care support services, a £330 million seven-year deal that covered payments to pharmacies, GP practices and opticians, the administration of pensions of Global Positioning System and changes to the lists of health practitioners to ensure they are suitably qualified and have passed the relevant checks.

Failures resulted in 87 women being notified incorrectly that they were no longer part of the cervical screening programme and may have compromised patient safety, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Problems with the list also led to hundreds of health workers being unable to work.

So far NHS England has deducted £5.3m from payments to Capita as penalties for poor performance but expects it may have to pay up to £3m in compensation to primary care providers.

The primary care support services agreement failed to make forwarding the correspondence a contractual obligation.

The NAO found that NHSE attempted to reduce its costs by 35% from the first year of the contract to modernise the service but did not know enough about the services it inherited to set achievable service levels and performance standards.

But the service suffered setbacks including problems with the transfer of medical documents and shortages of stock in the NHS supply chain.

NHS England has so far saved £60m in the first two years of the contract as the financial risk of increased costs sits with Capita, which has made a £125m loss over this period.

But the authors of the report wrote: "NHS England has not yet secured the transformation that it wanted".

But the report said the service from Capita "has fallen a long way below an acceptable standard".

The NAO recommends that NHS England should determine whether all current services within the contract are best delivered through that contract or should be taken in-house by NHS England.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said "Neither NHS England nor Capita fully understood the complexity and variation of the services being outsourced".

"As a result, both parties misjudged the scale and nature of the risk in outsourcing these services", he shared.

"While NHS England has achieved financial savings and some services have now improved, value for money is about more than just cost reduction", he said. "With this as an option, we are now asking NHS England how it plans to resolve the shambles that is Capita's running of Primary Care Support England", he said.

Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said: "Trying to slash costs by more than a third at the same time as implementing a raft of modernisation measures was over-ambitious, disruptive for thousands of doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists and potentially put patients at risk of serious harm".

"The report notes that several organisations and legacy issues all contributed to underperformance".

The report said Capita "acknowledges that it made performance issues worse" when it continued to close support offices in the summer of 2016 "even though it was aware" its customer service centre "was struggling to meet demand".

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