Fresh calls to scrap Capita contract as more cervical screening failures emerge

The BMA has renewed calls for NHS England to strip Capita of its primary care support contract after it was revealed that 3,591 women did not receive information about cervical cancer screening in 2017.

Screening letters not sent (Photo: iStock.com/RTimages)
Screening letters not sent (Photo: iStock.com/RTimages)

The blunder has been confirmed just weeks after Capita admitted it had failed to deliver cervical screening letters to around 48,000 women between January and June this year.

The latest discovery emerged during a ‘thorough review’ by Capita of correspondence made prior to this year. As was the case with failures in 2018, the correct process for uploading, organising and checking datafiles was not properly followed - resulting in 3,591 ‘items of correspondence’ not being sent in 2017.

The correspondence included both results letters and invitations to screening.

Cervical screening

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Just weeks ago, it was revealed that almost 48,000 women had not received important correspondence relating to cervical screening this year due to Capita’s incompetence, and this latest revelation shows this was not an isolated failure.

‘This is just the latest in a long line of failures since Capita took over a number of GP services in 2015 and yet NHS England have not demonstrated to the profession that they are serious at addressing what ultimately they are responsible for. We therefore repeat our demand that NHS England strip the company of its contract and return this service to an in-house delivered activity that can regain the confidence of practices and patients.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard also called on NHS England to 'reconsider its contract' with Capita. 'This is simply not good enough,' she said. 'We should be doing our utmost to encourage more to have smear tests but errors, such as this, will only serve to further damage women’s confidence in the programme.'

A spokesperson for NHS England said there is ‘no evidence’ of any harm having resulted from these issues and that all women affected are being written to today advising them on next steps. Their GPs will also be informed.

Overhaul

Although NHS England did not respond to the BMA’s demands directly, it was announced last month that there will be a ‘major overhaul of national cancer screening programmes’ between now and summer 2019.

The review will ‘advise NHS England and Public Health England on the best operational delivery model for current screening programmes, including possible changes to currently outsourced provision’.

As part of the overhaul, NHS England also pledged to ‘learn lessons from recent issues around breast and cervical screening’.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, who will lead the cancer screening review, said: ‘There is no doubt that the screening programmes in England save thousands of lives every year, however, as part of implementing NHS’s long-term plan, we want to make certain they are as effective as possible.

‘This review provides the opportunity to look at recent advances in technology and innovative approaches to selecting people for screening, ensuring the NHS screening programme can go from strength to strength and save more lives.’

Capita says it has taken ‘appropriate disciplinary action’ and confirmed that ‘a senior executive’ responsible for the Primary Care Support England (PCSE) contract has now left the company following an investigation into the ‘managerial handling’ of cervical cancer screening correspondence.

The company has apologised to the women affected by the administrative error.

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