The manager overseeing outsourcing giant Serco’s contract to provide community services across Suffolk has told HSJ its three year deal was ‘not long enough’ to carry out the level of transformation needed in the region.

  • Serco director: Contract ‘not long enough’ to undertake the change needed
  • Abigail Tierney says £140m contract value was not “adequate”
  • Tierney: “We have empowered staff”

Speaking as the company prepares to hand over the contract to a consortium of three local NHS providers, Abigail Tierney also said the £140m value of the contract was “not adequate”.

Ms Tierney, Serco’s outgoing development director, said: “I think three years [was] not long enough to do the level of transformational change that both Serco and the commissioners were looking for. The £140m contract value was not adequate for a number of reasons.”

She said that information the company received as part of the contract’s due diligence process was wrong, as activity was not recorded correctly by staff using an electronic record system.

Ms Tierney said activity increased “significantly” during the course of the contract. She added: “We bid [for the contract] based on a level of activity that was significantly lower than what was actually being delivered on the ground.”


Serco was told to improve staff morale, recruitment and retention

The company experienced a series of problems with the contract, leading Ipswich and East Suffolk, and West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups to undertake a four month review into the services.

While they were found to be safe and meeting the needs of patients, Serco was told to improve in a number of areas including staff morale, recruitment and retention, and communication with GPs and commissioners.

Ms Tierney, who joined Serco from an NHS acute trust, defended the company’s running of the contract. She said: “I’m proud that we are handing over a high performing service with a great legacy around all the things we have invested in and I think the consortium [of trusts] appreciates that.

“We have empowered staff who understand the need on the ground. [By using mobile working] some of the teams have seen a 30 per cent increase in patient facing time.

“Our friends and family test results over that last few months have shown that 100 per cent of patients would recommend our service.”

Discussing issues the company faced on taking on the contract, Ms Tierney said: “That ‘public meeting private’ kind of culture caused challenges at the beginning.

“We were facing a workforce that had gone through many different changes and were feeling disillusioned. And then there was the challenge of Serco terms and conditions being different to NHS terms and conditions.”

Serco last year announced that it would withdraw from the clinical health services market in the UK after making multimillion pound losses on its NHS contracts.

Ms Tierney said that the company was still interested in providing support services to the health and social care sector.

She said: “We wouldn’t rule out providing support services for clinical services, such as facilities management, care coordination and patient contact centres. We’re still very keen to work in partnership with the NHS.”

West Suffolk Foundation Trust, Ipswich Hospital Trust and Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust will jointly run community services in the region from next month. The contract will be held by West Suffolk.