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Outsourcing primary care support services to Capita deemed a ‘shambles’

by Valeria Fiore
25 July 2018

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The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is encouraging NHS England to reconsider its approach to outsourcing after contracting out primary care support services England (PCSE) to Capita was a ‘shambles’.
In a report published today, PAC concluded that NHS England’s rush to make savings by outsourcing primary care services did not take into account the impact it would have on patients, or on the 39,000 GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists affected by it. 
Little consideration was given to the scale of the challenge before the contract between NHS England and Capita was signed, according to PAC.
‘Assess impact on users’
The PAC report said it costs £90m to provide the primary care support services in 2014-2015. In August 2015,  NHS England outsourced these services to Capita by signing a seven-year, £330m contract in August 2015, in a bid to slash costs by 35%.
However, no time was spent piloting the arrangement or consulting users to get the contract right.
For this reason, the PAC report recommended that ‘NHS England should assess the likely impact on users of a service before outsourcing and should update the committee by July 2019 on how it is involving stakeholders at an earlier stage in changes to the service, for example by seeking and responding to their views on transformation plans and getting them involved in pilots’.
A Capita spokesperson said: ‘We are now meeting the vast majority of key performance targets, and have put in place a new governance arrangement with NHS England to ensure improvement continues.’
Disruption to primary care staff
PAC said Capita recognises that it did not provide a good service. The committee added that Capita’s ‘failures’ were not only disruptive to thousands of GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists but also put patients’ safety at risk.
A NAO report published earlier this year said that outsourcing services to Capita ‘potentially compromised patient safety in cases where practitioners should have been removed’.
An NHS England spokesperson said they will work with Capita to address the issues outlined in the report.
However, they added that ‘by making this change over the past two years, the NHS has saved taxpayers £60 million, which has been successfully reinvested in frontline NHS patient care, funding the equivalent of an extra 30,000 operations’.
Commenting on the report, PAC chair Meg Hillier said: ‘NHS England made a complete mess of what could have been a responsible measure to save taxpayers’ money.’
Paul Conroy, practice manager at The Colte Partnership – Mersea Island Branch in West Mersea, Essex said he raised his concerns about primary care support services being carried out by Capita when the contract originally went out, but that his fears, and those of others, were not acted on. 
He added: ‘We said it would be a disaster, and no one listened. The biggest problem is the chaos, they just didn’t plan enough and we’re left picking up the pieces.’