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Capita’s GP support contract service failings ‘unacceptable’, says public health minister

Members of Parliament criticise Capita for failing to deliver appropriate services as part of its NHS primary care outsourcing contract

Public health minister Nicola Blackwood told the House of Commons that the service Capita has provided to GPs as part of its outsourcing contract has “fallen short of the standards” expected.  

Under the outsourcing deal worth an initial £330m, signed in 2015, Capita was due to provide a number of administrative support services to GP practices to deal with the fragmented and unstable service previously in place.

Capita was also contracted to provide a range of services, including payments, finance and human resources (HR), audit functions, medical supplies, supporting patient registration and clinical systems.

The contract could be worth up to £1bn should other NHS services, such as NHS Wales or NHS Scotland, join it.

However, the supplier has been criticised by GPs for not providing adequate services, particularly when it comes to Capita providing requested patients records in a timely manner.

Following on from the criticism, members of Parliament (MPs) scrutinised the deal in a House of Commons debate on 8 November 2016, where Blackwood said it had been “evident that Capita was inadequately prepared for delivering” the contract.

She said NHS England and the Department of Health were confident the programme would be a success at the time of the contract award, but the contract has fallen “well short of the standards that we expect” and “GPs have borne the brunt of these failings”.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Capita responds

A Capita spokesperson told Computer Weekly that it was contracted by NHS England to streamline delivery 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,” the spokesperson said.

A recent survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) found that 28% of GP practices reported they had failed to receive or have records collected from them on the date agreed with the supplier, and 81% said urgent requests for records had not been met within three weeks.

A third of practices also reported that they had received the wrong patient records. Receiving medical supplies on time was also an issue, with 23% saying they didn’t receive their orders on the expected date.

The BMA’s GP committee chair Chaand Nagpaul said: “The GP patient record system is currently in a state of chaos because of the complete failure of Capita to deliver an effective service.”

Read more about outsourcing

The information commissioner is also investigating reports that records have gone missing, as has been reported by several media outlets. However, the Capita spokesperson told Computer Weekly that the company “does not recognise the claims that thousands of files are missing whatsoever”.

“Medical records are now being delivered securely up to three times faster than under the previous system,” the spokesperson said.

“Urgent requests for medical records are a priority. 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,[and this] has always been the case.”

The spokesperson added that Capita requests and moves around 100,000 files a week from multiple sites, with records being stored in NHS England managed facilities.

“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,” the spokesperson said.

Capita is one of the largest outsourcing suppliers used by the UK government. Earlier in 2016, Barnet Council’s 10-year contract with the supplier, worth £32m a year, came under fire in the local authority’s audit reports.

The reports found failings in IT disaster recovery and IT change management parts of the contract, which saw IT and back-office functions such as HR and payroll transferred to Capita as part of the council’s One Barnet project

Read more on Healthcare and NHS IT

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