The BMA has urged NHS England to end Capita’s contract for GP back office services, after it failed to deliver correspondence relating to cervical cancer screening to 47,700 women.
The BMA has written to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens after becoming aware of the issue, which it said mainly relates to appointment invitations or reminder letters, but does include some screening results.
The GP Committee called Capita’s running of services ‘nothing short of shambolic’ and said it is ‘frankly appalling’ that the private company’s ‘gross error’ may have put patients at risk.
In the letter to Mr Stevens, the BMA demanded that NHS England strip Capita of the contract and take Primary Care Support England (PCSE) services back in-house.
According to the BMA, PCSE has written to those affected to apologise and informed GP practices.
In response, the BMA said that it is ‘preparing practices’ for the understandable concerns and queries that patients are going to have.
The BMA said that while GPs will do all they can to provide these women with support, they should not bear the brunt of rectifying the failings of a private company – something which they said GPs experienced in the past.
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘This is an incredibly serious situation, and it is frankly appalling that patients may now be at risk because of this gross error on the part of Capita.
‘Some women will now be left extremely anxious because they have not received important correspondence, particularly letters about abnormal smear test results that need urgent follow up. This has been caused solely by Capita’s incompetence.’
He added: ‘Since it took responsibility for GP back room functions three years ago, Capita‘s running of these services has been nothing short of shambolic and after repeated warnings from the BMA and government, this is now clear evidence that its failings have put patient safety – and possibly lives – at risk.
‘It is ultimately NHS England that bears overall responsibility and it must now take this service back in-house. As the body which commissioned Capita to take on this work, despite clear warning signs that it was not up to the job, NHS England must shoulder the blame for this dreadful situation; you cannot outsource responsibility.’
A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘Capita has alerted NHS England to an administrative failure in its processing of cervical screening, which means some women have not received invitation, reminder and result letters when they should have.
‘Every woman’s case is being reviewed, but there is no current evidence that this incident has led to harm to the women involved, and our priority now is to ensure that anyone affected by this incident is contacted, and knows how to get checked if they are due a cervical screen.’
The news comes as Capita recently accused GPs of putting patient safety at risk by redirecting incorrectly addressed mail to PCSE instead of back to the original sender.
A Capita spokesperson said: ‘The risk to women of this incident is low and there is no current evidence of harm, but Capita nevertheless apologises to both the NHS and to the women whose correspondence was delayed.
‘We have investigated the precise circumstances around this incident, and it is clear that the correct process for uploading, organising and checking datafiles was not properly followed. When the problem was discovered, it was not immediately escalated to senior leadership, or NHS England, by the individuals responsible.
‘Capita is investigating the managerial handling of the matter and taking appropriate disciplinary action. Additionally, a senior executive responsible for this contract has already left Capita.’
A version of this story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.