Health minister Nicola Blackwood told MPs last night that Capita had been ‘inadequately prepared’ to take over the primary care support services contract earlier this year.
The government was working with NHS England and Capita to resolve ongoing problems, the minister said, ‘and I have made it clear to Capita that I expect it to consider compensation as an option’.
GPonline has reported on problems since Capita began delivering a national support service, which includes medical records management and practice payments, set up to replace existing services that varied between areas.
GP patient records
The BMA has warned that patients have been put at risk by problems reported by GPs including delays in transferring patient records, shortages of prescription pads, problems processing newly qualified GPs' applications to join the performers list and other issues.
Former Labour minister Geoffrey Robinson MP (Coventry North West), who initiated a Commons debate that took place on Tuesday evening, warned that services had been put at risk after the government, was ‘taken in’ by ‘the lure of apparent savings and the prospect of cutting 40% from a £1bn bill’ for primary care support services.
‘And they contracted the work out to Capita, of all people’, he added. Failings with the service, said Mr Robinson, revealed ‘the true motives of private sector contractors. They are not in it to improve the service and make real savings; they are in it for short-term profit.’
Bristol South Labour MP Karin Smyth said the decision to privatise the service had been ‘driven by a desire to make massive wholesale savings’.
‘There is no doubt that we are facing a major threat with this situation,' added Mr Robinson, ‘and we hope we can stop it before we get to a major incident or catastrophe of some kind.'
The MP called for the government to resolve the situation. ‘That is our message tonight - get your finger out, put it right. Put the resources into putting this whole problem right and do not go for the short-term solution.’
Ms Blackwood sought to reassure MPs that NHS England had said it was not aware of any direct cases of patient harm from the service failures. But she agreed there should have been greater scrutiny of Capita’s competence in delivering the contract.
NHS England had demanded rectification plans from Capita and had embedded its own officials in the service, she told MPs. Capita had also taken on 500 additional staff and improved staff training.
Ms Blackwood added that a modernised, more efficient model of primary care support was ‘the right approach’.
The DH would continue to closely scrutinise Capita and NHS England, she said, as they try to resolve the problems. ‘I acknowledge fully that there is a long way to go before the service can be considered acceptable and that Capita has much to do to earn the trust of practitioners and patients.
‘This is clearly a live issue. I want to be clear today: I am listening. The issue is at the top of my priority list and will remain there until I am satisfied that an efficient and effective service is being delivered that meets the needs of patients and providers.’
GP support services
A Capita spokeswoman said: 'NHS England contracted Capita to both streamline delivery of GP support services and make significant cost savings across what was a highly localised service with unstandardised, generally unmeasured and in some cases, uncompliant processes.
We have taken on this challenging initiative and we have openly apologised for the varied level of service experienced by some service users as these services were transitioned and are being transformed.' She said the company did not recognise 'whatsoever' claims that thousands of patient records were missing.
'Medical records are now being delivered securely up to three times faster than under the previous system,' she said. 'Urgent requests for medical records are a priority and if a paper-based medical record is unavailable, access to vital medical information is still available to GPs electronically without delay or we assist direct GP to GP contact to ensure patient care is not disrupted as has always been the case.
'We request and move on average 100,000 files a week from multiple sites including GP surgeries and also third party run storage facilities which are contracted and managed by NHS England. There are approximately 22m medical records that are stored in these NHS England managed sites. We therefore have some dependencies on these third party storage facilities, and are working closely with NHS England to improve the timeframes for medical records to be retrieved from them.
'We have mobilised extra people and management to ensure that we can deliver an improved service.'