“Way below standard” NHS services provided by outsourcing firm Capita to 39,000 GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists “potentially put patients at risk of serious harm”, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said.
Today’s scathing NAO report (May 17) – coming just a day after MPs savaged Carillion’s bosses and the government for the construction giant’s collapse – reiterates the folly of privatisation, Unite said.
The NAO is now recommending that NHS England determine whether services should be taken back in-house.
An estimated 1,000 GPs, dentists and opticians were prevented from working with patients because of Capita’s bungling of the seven year NHS England primary care support contract, which was awarded to the firm in 2015.
The NAO said both NHS England and Capita misunderstood the risks in outsourcing the services in order to slash costs by 35 per cent from the first year.
Widespread service failures
While Capita’s performance has improved, the NAO said primary care practitioners are still experiencing widespread service failures nearly three years on.
The NAO said Capita was incentivised through the contract to close existing services to minimise its losses.
Performance issues emerged in 2016 shortly after Capita started closing primary care support offices and making other changes to the service.
Capita acknowledges that it made performance issues worse by continuing to close support offices in summer 2016, even though it was aware its customer service centre was struggling to meet demand.
Despite this, NHS England was contractually unable to stop Capita’s aggressive office closure programme, even though it was having a harmful impact on service delivery.
‘Serious harm risk’
The report said Capita’s failure to deliver services “potentially put patients at risk of serious harm”, including 87 women who were notified incorrectly that they were no longer part of the cervical screening programme.
NAO head Amyas Morse said, “While NHS England has achieved financial savings and some services have now improved, value for money is about more than just cost reduction.
“It is deeply unsatisfactory that, two and a half years into the contract, NHS England and Capita have not yet reached the level of partnership working required to make a contract like this work effectively.”
Unite lauded the NAO for performing a “sterling public service” in highlighting the failures in the seven year contract.
“This scathing report once more highlights the folly of privatising NHS services where the profit motive trumps patient care – the time has come for the government to say ‘enough is enough’,” said Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe.
“The NAO findings are given extra pungency by yesterday’s excoriating report by two Commons select committees into the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion in January.
He added, “How many more reports are needed to reinforce the case that the privatisation of NHS services short changes patients in particular and the taxpayer in general?”
The NAO report follows a decision on Tuesday by Unite members employed by Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust to take strike action over plans to outsource their jobs.