NHS England’s Capita contract repeats past blunders

By Tony Collins

A National Audit Office report published today on NHS England’s £330m Capita contract highlights blunders that will be familiar to anyone who recalls the mistakes and false assumptions that floored the £10bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT] in the NHS.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who heads the Public Accounts Committee, said of the Capita contract,

“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.

“Neither NHS England nor Capita properly understood the scale of the challenge before agreeing the contract and are still in dispute over future payments.

“Yet again this is poor contracting by Government with one of its major suppliers and it must learn lessons.”

But will any lessons be learned? Those who have followed the problems that beset the NPfIT and the NHS Capita contracts will see a similar pattern of mistaken beliefs, false assumptions, flawed risk assessments and over-optimistic reviews on both deals.

The NPfIT was “dismantled” in 2011. The Capita contract, which was signed in 2015 and started in September that year, has improved, says the National Audit Office, but there are still disputes between Capita and NHS England over the supplier’s performance.

These are some of the main findings of today’s National Audit Office report NHS England’s management of the primary care support services contract with Capita. The Capita (and NPFIT) contracts were floored by:

– over-ambitious, unrealistic plans that were not challenged by anyone who was taken seriously

– too little involvement of prospective end-users

– – a lack of Whitehall understanding of how people worked at the coal-face

– inadequate piloting of proposed changes

– a false assumption that IT on its own can standardise diverse working practices

– a false assumption that IT suppliers will be able to take over and understand a complex and problematic safety-related public service while at the same time transforming it.

– a false assumption that the contract will make up for a suppliers’ inadequacies

– over-optimistic internal project “review” reports by civil servants for civil servants which will say what civil servants want them to say

– the wrong risks being assessed – in this case whether the savings would be achieved rather than whether Capita would provide a good service

– the alienation of medical professionals by the NHS’s issuing statements claiming the problems were teething when they were going on for years and getting worse.

Numerous complaints by GPs and their trade association the BMA and campaigning articles in Pulse magazine eventually caused NHS England to act on the contract.

[In the case of the NPfIT, a Whitehall and House of Commons reaction was eventually triggered by GPs, hospital staff and others complaining to Computer Weekly, national newspapers and broadcasters.]

Below are some of the detailed findings of today’s National Audit Office report on Capita’s NHS contract. My sub-headings on the lessons not learned from the NPfIT are in italics:

Was NHS England in control of Capita contract – or was Capita in full control?

  • Capita initially denied being in breach of service obligations
  • Capita argued there was no pre-contract baseline data on which to judge its performance
  • NHS England assured itself Capita’s improvement plan was fit for purpose – then found it was “ineffectual”.
  • Despite Capita’s improvement plan issues became “more widespread”.

National Audit Office report:

“On 27 May 2016, NHS England wrote to Capita formally expressing concerns about performance issues and seeking to enact the recovery arrangements set out in the contract. Capita initially denied being in breach of its service obligations. It argued that there were no baseline data from before the contract to benchmark its performance against and confirm whether service standards were being met. In its response of 17 June 2016, NHS England stated that the lack of performance data meant that Capita could not yet prove that it was meeting performance standards. It considered that there was enough evidence to place Capita in a formal process to rectify services, given the delays in setting up the customer support centre, the medical records service, and payments to opticians. However, NHS England considered that the improvement plan that Capita had developed would be sufficient to resolve the problems.
“NHS England formally intervened in Capita’s management of the contract in September 2016. It told us that by the end of summer 2016, it had become clear that Capita’s improvement plans were ineffectual in some key areas and that issues had become more widespread. NHS England served default notices, placing five of Capita’s nine services in a formal rectification process: the customer support centre; the medical records service; the patient registration service; the national performers lists service; and payments to opticians. It also embedded an ‘expert management team’ in Capita, to work alongside operational staff and provide additional oversight and support. 

Just because outsourcing together with standardising systems and working practices seem justified doesn’t mean you should

 NHS England aimed to reduce its costs by 35% from the first year of the contract and transform and modernise the service. The government’s mandate to NHS England required it to make significant reductions in its administrative running costs. NHS England also wanted to provide a high-quality and standardised service.
When NHS England took responsibility for primary care support services in 2013 they were being delivered by 1,650 staff from 47 local offices, managed under separate local arrangements, with no national leadership, no common standards in service specification or operating processes, and with limited data on performance. Services were supported by a 20-year-old IT system that NHS England considered was unsustainable and in urgent need of replacement, and many processes relied on the manual processing of paper‑based documents. NHS England considered that it would not be possible to deliver the required savings in‑house as it did not have the necessary skills in transforming services through better use of IT.

Major Projects Authority blunder – no wonder its reports are secret

The final review by the Major Projects Authority – which is now the Infrastructure and Projects Authority – noted that this was a well-run programme and that successful delivery appeared probable… The procurement was supported by commercial experts in the Cabinet Office … and was approved by the then Department of Health and HM Treasury

Don’t outsource until you know precisely what you’re outsourcing

  • NHS England didn’t understand the diverse local processes Capita was supposed to standarise
  • False assumptions were made
  • NHS England didn’t benchmark existing data before outsourcing
“NHS England did not know enough about the services it inherited to set achievable service specifications and performance standards from the start of the contract. This was a complex first generation outsourcing. NHS England lacked adequate data on the volume and cost of the services before the contract was awarded, and there were no consistent measures of performance. It told us that it recognised that there was variation in how services were delivered across the country, but that it did not have a detailed understanding of how local processes were different. As a result, it made a number of assumptions about the volume, cost and performance of the services in order to set service specifications and performance standards. To mitigate the risk around the robustness of the activity data, the contract included a clause to ensure that volume data could be reviewed in the first few months and, if necessary, the contract starting volumes could be revised. Capita only requested one ‘allowable assumption’ that permitted future adjustments related to uncertainty in the number of staff to be transferred

**

“Because of gaps in its knowledge, NHS England had to make a number of assumptions about the volumes and costs of the services before awarding the contract. For example, it used data on the number of GP practices and the types of contract they held to estimate the number of GP payments that would be needed and the volume of orders for NHS supplies. NHS England told us, that to mitigate the risk around the robustness of the activity data, the contract included a clause to ensure that volume data could be reviewed in the first few months and if necessary the contract starting volumes could be revised. It also told us that it provided all the information and service access that bidders needed to develop their bids and as a result Capita only requested one allowable assumption that allows for future adjustments in cases of uncertainty. This related to the number of staff to be transferred.
“NHS England also made assumptions about current performance in order to set service specifications and measures for assessing PCSE’s performance. The contract set out 58 performance indicators – 24 key performance indicators and 34 standard service levels. NHS England considers that the key performance indicators are more important, as failure to deliver them would result in greater operational and reputational loss to NHS England.
**
“The mobilisation period did not give NHS England and Capita enough time to assess whether Capita was ready to start transforming the service. As a result, neither NHS England nor Capita knew enough about PCSE’s performance when Capita started making changes to the service in March 2016.
“It took longer than expected for Capita to develop consistent information about its performance. The contract allowed a three-month period to assess how performance at the start of the contract differed from expectations set out in the performance measures. Where performance measures were not being met, Capita could propose variations or alternative measures. If agreed, these would be applied for a period of two years (known as the transformation period). However, NHS England told us that it took Capita five months to start providing consistent information about its performance. NHS England considers that the quality of Capita’s data has improved but it still has concerns about its quality and reliability.”

Another repeated NPfIT blunder – contracting out and transforming at the same time

“NHS England’s decision to contract with Capita both to run existing services and also simultaneously to transform those services, was high risk. Capita was incentivised through the contract to close existing services to minimise its losses but the interaction between running, closing and transforming services was more complex than Capita or NHS England had anticipated. This was a high-risk strategy, particularly for a set of incompletely understood services being outsourced for the first time.”

Savings at a personal cost and risk to patients?

  • Despite the massive disruption for GPs, opticians and dentists, 87 women being notified incorrectly that they were no longer a part of the cervical screening programme, a backlog of 500,00 patient registration letters, some 64% of GP practices saying they had received incorrect patient records in the last three months, 1,000 GPs, dentists and opticians being unable to work and a loss of earnings and missed and inaccurate payments to practitioners, the savings Capita was contracted to deliver were delivered.
“In the first two years of the contract, NHS England achieved savings of £60 million compared to expected savings of £64 million. NHS England has reduced the cost of delivering the service by 30% from £87.8 million in 2014-15 to £62.7 million in 2016‑17. In 2016-17, NHS England’s costs included £41 million made in payments to Capita. It also spent £22 million on other related costs such as buying NHS forms, records archiving facilities and managing the PCSE contract.”

Don’t cut staff until you know for certain you don’t need them. The worst time to cut staff is before the IT-related changes have bedded in. Until then, you’ll need more people – not fewer. 

“Performance issues emerged shortly after Capita started closing primary care support offices and making other changes to the service. In March 2016, Capita introduced a new online portal for primary care providers to use to order supplies. In April 2016, it introduced a new courier arrangement and labelling system for moving medical records, which replaced different local arrangements. These changes were poorly implemented and providers struggled with the new systems. There were also problems caused by shortages of stock in the NHS supply chain. These issues resulted in a significant increase in the number of calls to Capita’s customer support centre, which could not cope with the increase. Between December 2015 and November 2016, Capita closed 35 of the 38 support offices it inherited and cut staff numbers from 1,300 to 660.
**
“Capita underestimated the scale and nature of the task and the impact of closing sites and losing local knowledge. Capita acknowledges that it took longer than anticipated to make changes to primary care support services. It underestimated the number of staff that would be needed to deliver the services, in part due to inaccurate assumptions about the volume of activity. It originally anticipated that it would only need around 314 staff by March 2018, but its actual headcount was 736. Capita also acknowledges that it made performance issues worse, by continuing to close support offices in summer 2016 even though it was aware the customer service centre was struggling to meet demand. The site closures resulted in the loss of local expertise. Procedures in place to retain local expertise did not work effectively as the staff who were retained did not always understand the systems being used in other regions.
**
“Capita Business Services Ltd (Capita) acknowledges that it underestimated the number of staff that it would need to deliver PCSE and the time it would take to implement changes. Capita’s bid involved reducing the number of staff from 1,390 at the start of the contract to 314 by March 2018, in order to minimise its losses over the first two years of the contract (Figure 10). As at March 2018, it had 736 staff working on PCSE, as the number it originally forecast was insufficient. Capita told us that contributing factors to this underestimation included higher service volumes than predicted and the significant variation in how services were delivered, including by NHS England area teams. It has also taken longer than it anticipated to make changes to the service, because it underestimated the extent of variation in the way local support offices operated and the time it would take primary care providers to adapt to new ways of working.”

NHS England took months to act against Capita

“NHS England formally intervened in Capita’s management of the contract in September 2016. It told us that by the end of summer 2016, it had become clear that Capita’s improvement plans were ineffectual in some key areas and that issues had become more widespread. NHS England served default notices, placing five of Capita’s nine services in a formal rectification process: the customer support centre; the medical records service; the patient registration service; the national performers lists service; and payments to opticians. It also embedded an ‘expert management team’ in Capita, to work alongside operational staff and provide additional oversight and support.”

An appalling contract?

“NHS England’s performance measures did not cover all the service areas Capita were required to deliver. Without comprehensive service indicators, NHS England cannot tell whether the services meet the needs of primary care providers. NHS England did include performance measures in the contract, although these did not cover all the activities that Capita was required to deliver. A review of the contract, carried out by NHS England in March 2016, found that of 78 key activities that Capita was contracted to carry out, some 23 were not captured by performance measures and were therefore ‘invisible’ to NHS England. It identified that 13 of the 23 activities without performance measures could affect patient safety if not delivered to standard. NHS England are in ongoing discussions around extending performance monitoring (paragraphs 3.8 and 3.13).
**
“Performance measures lack indicators on providing a high-quality service, as NHS England’s focus was on efficiency. For example, the performance measure for payments to GPs measured whether Capita is making payments on time but not whether the payments are accurate.

**

“Performance measures do not always cover the end-to-end performance of PCSE. For example, the contract measures Capita’s performance in delivering patient records only from when the records are picked up from GP surgeries. They ignore any delays picking up the records – a particularly acute problem for GPs.”

What’s the point of a few KPIs in an appalling contract?

“There were still gaps in the performance measures used to monitor Capita’s performance when it started to make changes to PCSE. NHS England’s review of the contract, in March 2016, found that of 78 key activities that Capita was contracted to carry out, some 23 were not captured by performance measures and were therefore ‘invisible’ to NHS England. It identified that 13 of the 23 activities without performance measures could affect patient safety if not delivered to standard.
“NHS England’s performance measures were not flagging issues when stakeholders started raising concerns in April 2016. At this time, Capita was reporting that it was meeting all but 4 of the 49 performance measures set by NHS England. The stakeholders we spoke to consider that there is still a mismatch between Capita’s reported performance that takes into account factors that Capita considers to be outside its control, and the issues that they are experiencing on the ground.
“NHS England told us that service specifications lack detail in some areas which leads to disagreements, as they are open to different interpretations. Areas of misunderstanding include:
  • Performance measures. The contract allowed Capita to use less onerous performance measures during the transformation period, from February 2016 to August 2017. However, as the transformation is not yet complete, it is unclear whether Capita should still be using these measures. The measures that were to be applied from August 2017 set a higher standard of performance.
  • By May 2018, NHS England and Capita had still not agreed how to calculate 11 performance measures.
  • The method of calculating the volumes of services and payments. NHS England does not agree with the approach that Capita has used to calculate the volumes of services. It considers this approach to be inconsistent with the methodology described in the contract. The volumes being reported by Capita are significantly different to the baselines set out in the contract for some services.”

What’s the point of a contractual “target”?

“Capita’s contract with NHS England gave a three-month period to agree final service volumes and performance targets with NHS England. At the end of this period, Capita reported that it had not been able to collect sufficient information to complete this exercise.”

Problems escalate – and further contractual measures make things worse

“In March 2016, it (Capita) opened an online portal for primary care providers to order NHS forms and some medical supplies. However, the number of orders far exceeded its expectations and there were not enough vehicles to fulfil the orders. This also affected the movement of medical records, as the service used the same vehicles. There was also a shortage of stock in the NHS supply chain which resulted in further delays in fulfilling orders. As a result of these issues, the number of calls to Capita’s customer support centre was higher than predicted, and the centre could not cope with the increase in demand.
“In April 2016, Capita implemented a contingency arrangement for moving medical records, following the decision to delay the full roll-out in March. This involved a single courier collecting records from GP practices and taking them all to Capita’s Darlington depot for sorting before being distributed. All legacy local couriers ceased to operate at this point. There was a further increase in the number of calls to the customer support centre as GP practices raised queries about the new process.”

Incompetent risk assessment?

The biggest risk was whether Capita would perform – but NHS England put the focus of its risk assessment on the threat of not meeting the financial savings targets.

“NHS England’s assessment of the contract risk focused on the likelihood of it failing to achieve its financial savings target and did not adequately assess the risk of Capita failing to provide the service to a good standard. Gaps in the data meant that NHS England could not challenge whether assumptions in the contract were reasonable. NHS England considered that Capita had access to existing service expertise that they had used to inform and test their transformation plans. It did not bring in staff with senior-level skills in transforming a service, as it expected this expertise to sit within Capita .
**
“NHS England also did little to assess whether Capita had the necessary skills to transform services successfully. Capita had partnered with an existing provider of primary care support services, Anglian Community Enterprise, which Capita was to contract services from. NHS England told us that it therefore considered that Capita had access to existing service expertise that they could use to inform and test their transformation plans. NHS England did not bring in staff with senior-level skills in transforming a service, as it expected this expertise to sit within Capita.”

 Capita acts against NHS England’s wishes

NHS England did not have the contractual mechanisms to intervene in some of Capita’s service changes. Capita expected to make a loss of £64 million in the first two years of the contract. Its bid involved reducing the number of staff by two‑thirds by January 2018. Capita therefore had an incentive to close support offices and cut back on staff as quickly as possible, in order to minimise its losses in the first two years of the contract. In May 2016, NHS England wrote to Capita expressing concerns about the closure of support offices, and asked Capita to reconsider its plans to reduce its number of staff. Although Capita’s site closure programme required NHS England’s engagement throughout the process, the contract did not require NHS England’s agreement to close offices, and between May and November 2016, Capita closed a further 20 offices.
**
“NHS England was unable to stop Capita’s aggressive office closure programme, without cancelling the contract, even though it was having a harmful impact on service delivery.
“The contract provided incentives for Capita to close primary care support offices and cut back on staff as quickly as possible, so that it could minimise its losses in the first two years. However, NHS England wrote to Capita on 6 May 2016, expressing concerns about Capita’s plans to significantly reduce its staff numbers at a time when there were significant issues with its performance. It also questioned whether Capita’s plans to deliver efficiency savings over a period of a few weeks, to compensate for the reduction in staff, were realistic. Although Capita’s site closure programme required NHS England’s engagement throughout the process, the contract did not require NHS England’s agreement for Capita to close offices or reduce staff.
“Between May and November 2016, Capita closed a further 20 offices and reduced its headcount from 820 to 660 employees. Both NHS England and Capita recognise that Capita made performance issues worse in spring 2016, by continuing to close support offices, as this resulted in the loss of local expertise.”

Basic contract principles still not agreed – 3 years into the contract

“Basic principles about the contract are still not agreed, which limits NHS England’s ability to hold Capita to account. NHS England and Capita have still not agreed how to calculate the volume of work carried out in some areas, and how these data should be used to calculate payments owed to Capita for delivering the services. By May 2018, two and a half years into the contract, they have not yet agreed on how to calculate 11 performance measures. There is a contractual mechanism for putting a service in rectification but none for exiting the rectification process. Capita provided NHS England with reports in August and September 2017 setting out why services should be taken out of rectification, but NHS England has not formally responded to three of these service reports. NHS England told us that it was waiting for further evidence from Capita on two services before it could consider if rectification was complete.”

NHS England claims maximum service credits from Capita – but these are contractually capped

“NHS England has largely secured the financial savings it expected. In the first two years of the contract, NHS England made savings of £60 million compared with expected savings of £64 million, as the financial risk of increased costs sits with Capita. To date, NHS England has deducted £5.3 million from payments to Capita as penalties for poor performance. The financial penalties are capped at £480,000 a month and were applied in full between July 2016 and April 2017. NHS England noted in its 2016-17 financial statements that it expected that it may have to pay up to £3 million in compensation to primary care providers. Contract penalties have yet to be applied from May 2017 because NHS England does not accept Capita’s reported performance data due to disagreements about the scope of some of the measures. This disagreement only emerged once Capita’s self-reported performance no longer triggered maximum service credits.
**
“The contract allows NHS England to apply financial deductions if Capita does not meet certain performance standards from January 2016. For example, if Capita processes fewer than 98.25% of GP payments on time, it is deemed a moderate failure and triggers a minimum penalty of £10,800 a month. The maximum penalty that can be applied for service failures was £480,000 a month in the first two years of the contract. From year three, it is set at 20% of payments to Capita, excluding fixed investment changes. Figure 9 on page 28 shows that, by April 2017, NHS England had deducted £5.3 million from payments, represented 7% of the total payable to that point. The maximum penalty was applied between July 2016 and April 2017. Contract penalties have yet to be applied from May 2017 because NHS England does not accept Capita’s reported performance data due to disagreements about the scope of some of the measures.
**
“No contract penalties have yet been applied for the period after April 2017. Negotiations are continuing on the penalties to be applied for the rest of year two and beyond.”

Capita’s losses?

“NHS England and Capita have reached a settlement on the first two years of the contract but commercial discussions about the future of the service are ongoing. Both parties have agreed a full and final settlement of all known commercial issues for the first two years of the contract, to 31 August 2017. NHS England paid Capita an additional £3.2 million. Capita has absorbed significant additional costs in excess of the £64 million losses it anticipated in the first two years, resulting in a £125 million loss over this period, including write-offs and service credits. Since September 2017, there has been no agreement on the full basis of charging. Capita stopped invoicing NHS England for services from September 2017, but resumed invoicing in February 2018 on the agreement that it would not prejudice the commercial discussions.”

NHS England to blame as well as Capita

“As well as Capita, a number of other organisations, including NHS England, have contributed to the underperformance of PCSE services. For example:
“For the market entry service, Capita is required to provide NHS England with a file, so that they can make a decision about applications for new pharmacies within 70 days of receipt of the initial application. In November 2017, only 41% of applications were processed on time – either because applicants and referees had not provided key information, or decisions had not yet been received from NHS England.
“The performance of the medical records service has been affected by difficulties retrieving medical records held in NHS England’s archives as well as from current GP practices. It was also affected by poor implementation by Capita of the new national courier arrangement for moving records, and difficulties that GP practices experienced complying with a new labelling system.
“The performance of the national performers lists service has been affected by the lack of timely decisions on removals and suspension requests by NHS England’s area teams.
“NHS England acknowledges that some of the issues with GP payments and pensions are a result of legacy issues predating the contract with Capita. In particular, there are a number of inaccuracies and missing documents affecting GP pension records, which can affect the accuracy of payments.”

Take some services back in-house?

NAO recommendation: “Determine whether all current services within the PCSE contract are best delivered through that contract or whether some should be taken in-house by NHS England. Experience has now highlighted which services can most easily be delivered by Capita and which have more complex dependencies. The current commercial discussions present an opportunity to revisit responsibilities.”

Get the buy-in of service users (also an NPfIT failure)

NAO recommendation: “Secure user engagement in advance of service changes. Primary care providers are a valuable source of practical feedback and can offer insights that will improve service delivery, especially where changes through transformation are significant.”

Pilot changes properly (also an NPfIT failure)

NAO recommendation: “Pilot significant transformation changes effectively. Several changes to services were not initially implemented effectively. NHS England could profitably discuss with Capita when pilots would offer the greatest benefit.”

Don’t under-estimate risks (also an NPfIT failure)

NAO recommendation: “Create a joint risk register which would more thoroughly set out dependencies, mitigations, responsibilities and required actions. NHS England did not adequately assess the risk of service failure and Capita failed to recognise the scale and nature of the task it was taking on. A joint risk register would allow delivery challenges and actions to surface at an earlier stage.”

Risk-assess bidders

NAO recommendation: “Risk assess the likelihood of bidders being able to deliver their promises and challenge the targets and assumptions of bidders. This should include benchmarking bidders on their capability to deliver their promises, such as by examining past performance. There should also be sufficient modelling to understand the contractor’s cost drivers and incentives.”

Disputes continue …

“Whether Capita has met the criteria for services to be removed from the formal rectification process. Capita considers that services should be taken out of formal rectification, but NHS England thinks there are still issues that need to be resolved. NHS England told us that the contract does not set out the process for removing services from rectification. Capita provided NHS England with a report for each service in August and September 2017, setting out why it should be taken out of formal rectification. However, NHS England has not formally responded to three of these reports. It told us that it was waiting for further evidence from Capita on two services before it could consider if rectification was complete.
**
“NHS England told us it considers that PCSE’s performance has improved. In February 2018, Capita Business Services Ltd (Capita) reported that it was meeting 41 out of 45 of its mitigated performance indicators, where information was available after taking into account factors Capita considered beyond its control. Capita was reporting one severe failure, which was for not notifying opticians that they had submitted an invalid payment claim within 30 calendar days. In November 2017, Capita reported it was meeting 40 out of 43 of its mitigated indicators, with one severe service failure. NHS England has not accepted Capita’s reported performance since May 2017 for 11 measures where there is a difference of view about how it should be calculated.
“The unadjusted underlying performance provides a better indicator of the performance that primary care providers are experiencing on the ground. In February 2018, unadjusted performance was more variable (32 out of 45 indicators being met) with seven severe service failures. In November 2017, only 28 out of 43 unadjusted performance indicators were being met, with 10 areas of severe service failure. Paragraph 2.13 describes how unmitigated performance is influenced not just by Capita, but by other organisations, including NHS England.
**
“For the period from 1 September 2017, NHS England and Capita are currently in unresolved commercial discussions. The main areas of disagreement are:
  • price bands – NHS England and Capita do not agree on the methodology for calculating the volumes of services
  • uncertainties about which performance measures should apply and the methodology for measuring performance against these measures
  • whether contract changes should be made for services that Capita considers are outside the scope of the original contract; and
  • the financial costs of delays in delivering transformation and the dependencies on NHS England and NHS Digital to support transformation.
“Because of the absence of an agreed basis for charging, Capita stopped invoicing NHS England for services from September 2017. Capita resumed invoicing in February 2018 on the agreement that it would not prejudice the commercial discussions.”

Comment

Today’s excellent National Audit Office report makes invaluable reading for anyone who is involved in implementing a major IT-related project or programme.

The depressing thing is that lessons from the 1997 book “Crash” – a collection of post mortems of the world’s worst IT disasters – have changed little in 20 years.

Capita has its accountabilities – in the share price and the jobs of senior people on the NHS England contract, some of whom have been replaced, including the PCSS managing director.

Who will be held responsible at NHS England for failures on the Capita contract? Nobody, as you’d expect in the public service. Decisions to outsource GP support services – against the firm advice of many GPs – were taken collectively. The responsibility is therefore diffuse and unidentifiable.

Clearly NHS England has repeated many of the classic mistakes; and in years to come NHS England, or its successor organisation, will probably do the same again because there’s no such thing as an institutional memory.

One possible answer may be for those involved in making big decisions on IT-related contracts in the public sector to be mandated to read – and assimilate – today’s National Audit Office report on GP support services, knowing that the report unwittingly identifies so many of the classic IT-related project and programme blunders.

National Audit Office report on Capita’s Primary Care Support Services contract 

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4 responses to “NHS England’s Capita contract repeats past blunders

  1. Thank you very much for posting this – we knew it was coming but, still very uncomfortable to read.
    As you say, those in the NHS – or any of our state bureaucracies, seldom if ever are held accountable for their misguided decisions. They have no ‘skin in the game.’ Many, if not most of us, would act similarly if consequences of our actions was so lax.
    Unfortunately, the NHS in general, perhaps because so many regard it as being beyond criticism, increasingly seems to attract the worst of the worst. They view it as a resource for them rather than a public service for the unwell.
    Thank you again.
    Kindest regards.
    Zara.

    Like

    • Thank you Zara – and for making the point about “skin in the game”. Nicholas Talib’s book of that name, for anyone who hasn’t read it, is about being distrustful of officials and others who are allowed to make mistakes that never come back to haunt them. Arguably this inevitable absence of individual accountability in the public sector puts the onus on civil and public servants to be even more careful about decisions involving public money than if their own money were at risk.

      Individual civil and public servants probably agree with this way of thinking – but collectively they can take rash and incompetent decisions with an astonishing complacency, as with the NHS Capita contract. Tony Collins

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: “NHS England’s Capita contract repeats past blunders” | Campaign4Change | COMRADE BOYCIE

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