By Tony Collins
In June 2016 NHS England said problems on Capita’s £330m seven-year contract to provide primary care support services to GPs were “teething”.
The contract started in September 2015.
Directors at NHS England’s September board meeting said that problems with Primary Care Support England had ‘escalated’ this summer and that the problems were ‘creating some risks for patients’.
Karen Wheeler, NHS England’s national director for transformation and corporate operations, is reported by Pulse to have told the board,
“I just want to recognise that obviously this has impacts for users, which include of course primary care contractors – GPs, ophthalmic and dental practitioners – and recognise that that’s difficult for all those users, and indeed creating some risks for patients as well.
“So we are doing everything we can to make sure that we escalate, and address the risks particularly for patients, and we will be communicating with practitioners how we are planning on, with Capita, to try to improve services as quickly as possible.”
Problems include undelivered patient notes, which has led to GP practices chasing records. There have also been delays in GP payments and clinical supplies.
NHS England’s chairman Professor Malcom Grant has angered some GPs by praising NHS England’s directors, and their teams, for the “huge amount of work” they have put in “trying to ensure people aren’t harmed by this at all.”
Pulse quotes Professor Grant as saying, “As you know the board takes this extremely gravely. When we say unacceptable, we mean unacceptable. I think we need to pay tribute to you [Karen Wheeler] and the team for the huge amount of work that has gone into trying to ensure that people aren’t harmed by this at all.”
A Capita spokesperson told Pulse: ‘Across all PCSE [Primary Care Support England] services our focus is to ensure that GPs and primary care providers are supported so they can concentrate on patient care.
“We fully recognise that the administrative services we provide play a key role in supporting primary care providers and ensure that urgent work is always treated as a priority.
“We have openly apologised for the level and varied quality of service we have provided across a number of PCSE services. As NHS England acknowledges, we are working very closely with them, supported by their subject matter experts, to implement step changes to improve current services.”
Responses to the article on Pulse’s website criticised NHS England’s chairman for praising his officials when it was NHS England that had made the decision in the first place to outsource GP support services.
One comment: “Apologies aren’t worth anything currently. We are struggling at [GP] practice level and NHSE [NHS England] don’t give a damn.”
Another said, “So ‘hubs’ and combining ‘back office’ functions not always the cost saving, efficiency panacea then… Let’s hope we learn the lessons and value our ‘back office functions’ more highly.”
An anonymous NHS manager said the decision to outsource to Capita had been taken “behind closed doors, without any meaningful staff consultation and with zero knowledge of what primary care support services actually do”.
The manager added, “NHS England is part of the problem. It’s about time they were held to account.”
Capita’s share price is currently less than half its 52-week high, for a range of reasons.