Local control of Cornish out of hours ruled out as Serco looks to subcontract

Cornwall LMC has ruled out a return to local control of the county's out-of-hours care, after private provider Serco confirmed it was looking to subcontract the service.

Serco: bid to subcontract part of out-of-hours deal in Cornwall
Serco: bid to subcontract part of out-of-hours deal in Cornwall

Devon Doctors, a GP-led social enterprise set up to provide out-of-hours care, confirmed to the BBC that it was in ‘early stage talks’ with Serco on running the service.

Local MP Andrew George (Liberal Democrat, West Cornwall) said Serco should ‘hand back the keys if they can't do the job’ and the service should be ‘reintegrated’ with the rest of primary care by the CCG.

But chair of Cornwall and Isles Of Scilly LMC, Dr Peter Merrin, told GP that Devon Doctors was better placed to take over than local GPs. Serco had had ‘well publicised problems with regard to evidencing the quality of that service’, he said.

‘It has been rumoured for some time that Serco were looking for partner organisations to help deliver OOH in Cornwall but at present Cornish GPs have no organisational structure that can deliver that help. Our colleagues in Devon Doctors have a well organised and mature organisational structure run by GPs and are ideally placed to explore the commercial possibilities of collaborating with Serco.’

Dr Merrin said local GPs were already integrated with Serco’s operation as they provided a substantial part of the service.

‘However, most GPs are struggling to cope with the workload "in-hours" so the thought of opting into out of hours would be unpalatable to most GPs.'

A CQC report in 2012 found Serco had failed to meet quality and safety standards. The outsourcing firm failed to employ enough skilled staff to meet the needs of patients and failed to protect patients by not training all staff in safeguarding protocols and not making locum GPs aware of local protocols.

Dr Louis Warren, Serco’s director for the service in Cornwall, said: ‘We have been working with our NHS customer, Kernow CCG, to improve the integration of our service with other providers of unscheduled healthcare in the region.

‘The NHS is considering a number of options to achieve this, including the possibility of the clinical elements of Serco’s service being delivered by a suitable specialist subcontractor of the necessary quality, capability and experience. At this stage no decision has been made. If such an arrangement were to be put in place, Serco would continue to be responsible and accountable to Kernow CCG for provision of the service.’

Kernow CCG’s director of operations Andrew Abbott said it had been looking at ways to improve out-of-hours care and was considering suggestions from Serco.

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