Primary care providers who are frustrated by the ongoing failures in Capita’s support service have had their complaints acknowledged in a damning report by the National Audit Office.
It says the problems arising from the £330m contract have put services and potentially patients at serious risk. It blames Capita for underestimating the task and the impact of losing local knowledge by closing sites, and NHS England for failing to fully assess the risk of outsourcing and put proper performance measures in place.
The seven-year contract, which began in August 2015, aimed to reduce costs by 35% and improve services. However problems emerged in early 2016 after Capita started closing support offices and introduced new systems for ordering supplies online and moving medical records.
While practitioners struggled with the new systems and the customer support centre could not cope with the increase in calls, Capita pressed on with closing offices and NHS England was powerless to stop it without cancelling the contract.
In September 2016, NHS England placed five of Capita’s nine support services – customer support, medical records, patient registration, the national performers lists and payments to opticians – in a formal process.
The report lists a catalogue of problems, including missed or inaccurate payments to practitioners, shortages of prescription pads, needles and syringes and backlogs of 500,000 patient registration letters. Delays in processing applications also resulted in around 1,000 GPs, dentists and opticians being unable to work. So far, over 200 have sought recovery of lost earnings.
The report says neither NHS England nor Capita fully understood the complexity and variation of the services and both misjudged the risk in outsourcing them. “The service to primary care practitioners . . . has fallen a long way below an acceptable standard,” it says. “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.’”
While the contract achieved savings of £60m in two years, it had not secured the transformation that the NHS wanted and practitioners are still experiencing ‘widespread failures’. The report says it is ‘deeply unsatisfactory’ that two and a half years into the contract, NHS England and Capita still cannot make it work effectively. It makes a number of recommendations, such as determining whether some services should be delivered in house.
Melanie Thomas, partner at Hall Liddy, says: “The Capita service has caused serious problems for many of our clients. The situation is still not resolved and, now the network of local services and expertise has been dismantled, it will not be easy to put things right. Hopefully practitioners can take some comfort from the fact that their complaints have been acknowledged by none other than the National Audit Office and, with the situation now brought to national attention, there will be a better chance of achieving a solution.”