Last week (May 17) the National Audit Office (NAO) confirmed what Unite has long been saying – that outsourcing public services can have disastrous results.
In a scathing report, the NAO slammed outsourcing firm Capita for the ‘well below standard’ primary care support services it has provided the NHS since it was awarded the contract in 2015.
Doctors in Unite (DiU) told UNITElive how Capita’s incompetence has had a massive impact on GPs and their ability to carry out their jobs and care for their patients – and what’s at stake if we continue to flog off NHS services to the private sector.
Delays and errors
About 1,000 GPs, dentists and optometrists were unable to work because Capita bungled their registration on the National Peformers’ List, a database which verifies that medical professionals are qualified to do their jobs. If they aren’t on the list, they can’t work – which left many GPs out of pocket for weeks or even months.
Capita is also responsible for processing GP payments – widespread delays and errors led to many GP surgeries running into cash flow problems and, for example, trainee GPs going without pay.
Alarmingly, many practices have discovered errors in GP pensions, which are also handled by the outsourcing firm Capita. In some cases, no receipts were received, while in others, contributions were taken from GPs who had long left the practice. Some GP trainees were not added to the scheme in a timely manner.
Patients, too, have been hit, with nearly 90 women being removed from the cervical screening programme, in effect delaying check-ups that could potentially be life-saving. Thousands of patients too have had their registrations to new practices delayed, while crucial patient notes haven’t been properly transferred on time from one practice to another.
Value for money?
Doctors in Unite (DiU) deputy chair Dr Jackie Applebee explained that Capita was first handed the contract three years ago in a bid to cut down on administrative costs.
“They call it ‘value for money’ but as we’ve seen over the last three years, the company hasn’t brought any value to this vital work at all – in fact, quite the opposite,” she said. “When their entire business model is based on cutting costs to increase dividends for their shareholders, the services they provide will of course suffer.”
Applebee noted that Capita shutting dozens of local support offices across the UK and slashing about half of the support staff in 2016 had an immediately palpable effect on services as local knowledge was lost to a labyrinthine, bureaucratic system run by a firm that simply didn’t understand the needs of the NHS.
“Bringing primary care support services back in-house would re-establish that relationship these services have with the NHS – it would renew that sense that we’re all part of one coherent organisation.”
Capita’s failures today (May 23) were highlighted at PMQs by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who pointed to last week’s NAO report that warned the contract “put patients at risk of serious harm.”
“Two-thirds of GP practices have received incorrect medical records; 500,000 new patient letters have been left unsent,” Corbyn noted. “Isn’t this the inevitable consequence of this government tearing up the founding principles of the NHS and putting private profit before public services?”
DiU chair Dr David Wrigley agreed and reiterated the call to bring the outsourced services back in-house.
“Doctors in Unite are appalled but not surprised at the damning report from the NAO regarding the outsourcing of primary care services to Capita,” he said.
“GPs have been saying for a very long time that the service from Capita is not fit for purpose, is impacting negatively on patient care and causing unacceptable administrative burdens for practices who are already struggling with the unprecedented funding squeeze imposed on the NHS by this government,” Wrigley added.
“We have a work force crisis in general practice meaning patients often have to wait weeks for an appointment, yet Capita are reported to have stopped 1000 GPs, dentists and opticians from working by failing to include them on the performers list in a timely manner.
“Capita said that they did not understand the complexity of the contract when it was signed. This is disgraceful and primary care support services should be brought back into the public sector immediately.”
Find out more about Doctors in Unite (DiU) here.