Health minister Steve Brine confirmed last week that Capita would ‘shortly recommence list maintenance for all practices across England' to ‘ensure that the lists of registered patients are as accurate as possible’.
The statement came in response to a question from Labour MP Roger Godsiff, who asked what action was being taken to ‘tackle the alleged practice of GP surgeries receiving payments for so-called ghost patients still registered at that GP practice but who have died or moved away’.
Figures published by NHS Digital earlier this year show that numbers of ghost patients registered with GP practices in England reached a 10-year high of 3.1m in 2017, compared to 2.2m in 2007.
The number of ghost patients - the gap between the UK population and numbers of patients registered with GPs - has risen sharply since 2015 when Primary Care Support England (PCSE) was outsourced to Capita - increasing by almost 1m in just two years.
GP leaders - who have been critical of Capita's handling of primary care support amid problems with pensions, payments to GP practices, transfer of patient records and other issues - warned that list cleaning must be carried out fairly and with sensitivity to avoid genuine patients being removed from practice lists.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘There is a clear process for doing this but it must be done sensitively and in a way that does not deny patients access to their GP simply because they have not needed to do so because they have been well.’
LMCs have hit out in the past at thousands of legitimate patients being removed from practice lists in list-cleaning drives because they had not attended their practice recently for an appointment, unfairly stripping income from GPs.
GPs have reported vulnerable patients being removed from lists because practices themselves had been given little information about the measures and because elderly, frail patients or those whose first language is not English failed to reply to letters from NHS authorities.
Mr Brine said that Capita’s maintenance drive would be ‘in accordance with NHS England policy, guidance and agreed standard operating procedures’. He added: ‘GP practices also have a duty to maintain their registered patient lists in a current and accurate state’.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: 'NHS England will be asking all GP practices to carry out checks on their patient registration lists to ensure they are accurate and up to date and is working with PCSE to improve the quality of patient details on national databases.'
Capita has faced renewed calls to be stripped of its primary care support contract in recent weeks, after it emerged that more than 48,000 women did not receive correspondence relating to cervical screening.
NHS England has also launched a review into GP pension data discrepancies, and MPs warned earlier this year that outsourcing primary care support to Capita had been a 'shambles'.
Capita said earlier this year that it had apologised for 'unacceptable failings in relation to the initial delivery' of its contract and had made improvements.