Patient safety at risk due to Capita failings, BMA warns

Patient safety is being compromised due to multiple serious failures in key primary care support (PCS) services run by Capita, the BMA has warned.

‘Multiple failures’ in back office support services since they were taken over by outsourcing firm Capita have compromised patient safety, the BMA has said, following a qualitative survey of LMCs.

The survey, undertaken by the BMA, revealed the extent of Capita's failures to provide these essential services, it said.

These include practices experiencing prescription pad and syringe shortages, failure to process urgent requests in a timely manner and mistakes in recording NHS pension payments for GP locums.

Outsourcing firm Capita is responsible for running PCS services as part of its contract with NHS England.

GP support services

The BMA's latest warnings over problems with primary care support services follow earlier warnings that GP trainees could be left legally unable to practise medicine because applications to join the medical performers list were not being processed fast enough.

GPonline has also reported on concerns about collection and transfer of patient records between practices.

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul claimed NHS England was 'ultimately responsible for the chaos' by opening up the provision of PCS services to privatisation in an attempt to reduce costs. 

He said he had written to NHS England expressing his 'grave concern' over the problems, for which he has reportedly received an apology.

A list of problems unearthed in the LMC survey include:

  • Long delays in collection/delivery of records when patients transfer from one practice to another.
  • Failure to process urgent requests for records in a timely manner if the patients has an immediate emergency.
  • Large build-ups of records awaiting transfer to a new practice.
  • Wrong records delivered to practices resulting in time wasted by the GP attempting to reroute them.
  • Records not being updated so they often appear with patient’s previous addresses on the records.
  • Delays in providing funding for GP trainees, resulting in many practices having to fund their salaries from their own overstretched budgets.
  • Failures in maintaining supplies to GP practices, including GP practices suffering shortages of key materials like prescription pads, fit note certificates and syringes.
  • Delays, failures and mistakes in ensuring NHS pension payments are properly recorded for GP locums.

GP supply shortages

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘Clear evidence is emerging that there are a range of systematic and endemic failures in the way Capita are running crucial back office support services in general practice.

‘Local GPs are reporting to the BMA that they are facing unacceptable delays in patient record transfers and mistakes in maintaining supplies of crucial medical equipment, like syringes and even prescription paper.

‘Many GP practices are also not getting funding transferred correctly from other NHS bodies to cover staff costs and pensions, which means they are having to dip into on their already stretched budgets to cover these costs.

‘These mistakes are directly impacting on the ability of many GPs to provide safe, effective care to their patients. They are in some cases being left without the essential information they need to know about a new patient and the tools to treat them.

‘NHS England is ultimately responsible for the chaos caused by trying to cut the cost of this essential service for practices by privatising it and we can now all too clearly see the result, with practices picking up the workload and patients suffering as a result.

‘I have written to NHS England expressing my grave concern about this state of affairs and received an apology for these failures. But we need urgent action to correct these shortcomings before patient care is further compromised.’

A Capita spokeswoman said: 'We fully recognise that the services we provide play a key role in supporting primary care providers and apologise for the level and varied quality of service we have provided across a number of PCSE services. We are continuing to work closely with NHS England and our focus remains on delivering these important services at an optimum level.

'The pace, scale and complexity of introducing the changes NHS England requires to transform the PCSE service from a highly localised and inconsistent system, that was neither measured or monitored, to a more standardised and centralised model, is undoubtedly challenging and has resulted in some service users having varied and, on occasion, substandard experiences for which we have openly apologised.

'We always prioritise urgent requests for medical records 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.'

An NHS England spokeswoman said: ‘We want to ensure GPs can focus on patient care and we acknowledge that Capita’s provision of a number of support services for GP practices  does not reflect the standard we expect.

‘So we are working more closely with Capita to ensure that urgent and immediate improvements are made and this includes embedding a team of NHS England experts alongside Capita to more quickly identify and rapidly resolve issues. Capita has assured us they recognise the scale of the shortfalls, and are committed to resolving them as quickly as possible.’

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