PERFORMANCE: Commissioners have insisted community services in Suffolk run by Serco are “safe”, a week after a council said they could be deteriorating. 

Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG and West Suffolk CCG said that after completing a four-month probe they had found “no evidence of harm to patients” but they told the private provider to improve in a raft of areas.

Staff morale, recruitment and retention, communication with GPs and commissioners, equipment stores and procedures at the Ipswich care co-ordination centre were all areas identified for improvement, according to the CCGs’ report.

The report follows Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health adult care Alan Murray last week telling the East Anglia Daily Times: “The service is not improving, if anything it is deteriorating. My department is trying to work very hard with Serco management to improve the current situation which we are finding increasingly unacceptable.”

“The delays in equipment delivery is unacceptable. The only thing that matters, ultimately, is the users, carers and their families.”

Many observers said the outsourcing company’s £140m bid to run the service over three years had been unrealistically low - a claim denied by its health managing director Valerie Michie in an HSJ interview last month.

The CCGs’ review followed concerns being raised by patients and GPs, and performance targets being missed.

Imran Qureshi, Ipswich and Suffolk CCG’s clinical executive, said the review was “instigated to ensure that the service was safe”.

He said while Serco was “delivering a service that meets the overall needs of patients”, it was “important the CCGs, with Serco, carried out this review to address the potential quality issues”.  

“We have a very robust contracting process and we continue to monitor and work with them”, but “we would push them if we didn’t see improvements,” Dr Qureshi said.

“If we come to the end of the contract and we haven’t seen any improvement or any engagement in any provider, then of course that contract is up for discussion at the time, but we’re not anywhere there yet.”  

Abi Tierney, Serco’s development director, said: “It is very encouraging that this review has reached such a clear and unambiguous conclusion – that our services are safe and meet the overall needs of patients.” However, she admitted it “highlights some areas for improvement”.