NHS contract with Capita ‘potentially put patients at risk’

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A private company hired to perform back-office tasks for the NHS failed to deliver on parts its service and potentially put patient safety at risk, according to a new report.

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that failings by Capital included wrongly telling 87 women they were no longer a part of the cervical screening programme. The NAO report adds that “no actual harm has been identified”.

It follows a blunder in the NHS breast screening programme which saw hundreds of thousands of women not sent their final screening invitation. Up to 270 lives could have been lost as a result.

Patients could also have been put at risk due to Capita’s management of the “performers list” of GPs, dentists and opticians. “The failure to update performers lists may have compromised patient safety in cases where practitioners should have been removed,” the NAO said.

In 2016, delays in processing new applications for the lists resulted in around 1,000 GPs, dentists and opticians being unable to work. It kept health workers form the frontline and meant NHS England had to pay out for lost earnings.

The estimated value of NHS England’s seven-year contract with Capita for nine primary care support services is worth £330m.

The contract was agreed in 2015 with the aim of reducing primary care support service costs by 35 per cent.

But the service suffered setbacks including problems with the transfer of medical documents and shortages of stock in the NHS supply chain. 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.” The NAO said NHS England secured savings of £60m in the first two years of the contract.

But the report said the service from Capita “has fallen a long way below an acceptable standard”. It said: “This had an impact on the delivery of primary care services and had the potential to seriously harm patients, although no actual harm to patients has been identified.”

The NAO acknowledged that Capita’s self-reported performance had improved. But they questioned whether some of the services should be taken “in-house”.

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.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “While not without its difficulties, by making this change over the past two years the NHS has successfully saved taxpayers £60 million, as the NAO themselves confirm. This £60m in lower administrative cost has all been successfully reinvested in frontline NHS patient care, and has helped fund the equivalent of an extra 30,000 operations.”

A Capita spokeswoman added: “The report notes that several organisations and legacy issues all contributed to underperformance.

“It has been acknowledged that performance has improved and Capita will continue to work with all parties to address the small number of remaining service issues.

“We have accepted accountability for not meeting our high standards of service previously.”