• Minister claims Capita were “inadequately” prepared to take over primary care support services
  • NHS England admits poor performance has impacted on patients
  • Nicola Blackwood argues previous PCS service needed to change
  • Capita promise to employ 500 extra full time equivalent staff at own expense

A health minister has told Parliament that Capita was “inadequately” prepared to take over primary care support services after NHS England awarded it a £330m outsource contract last year.

Capita has been widely criticised since it took over PCS in September 2015, with widespread reports of services deteriorating after the outsource giant began centralising services and closing local offices.

NHS England has also this week admitted Capita’s poor performance has had an “unacceptable impact on patients”, and that the firm has failed to maintain the previous quality of services.

In a House of Commons debate on the contract yesterday, Nicola Blackwood, minister for public health and innovation, said that bids for the PCS contract were assessed for both quality and cost, and had been scrutinised by both the Department of Health and the Treasury.

But, she admitted, it is now “evident that Capita were inadequately prepared for delivering this complex transition”.

Asked whether Capita has the resources to deliver the current contract, Ms Blackwood said “Capita have informed me that they are adding around 500 more full time equivalent staff to the service at their own cost.”

During the debate Ms Blackwood addressed suggestions the DH should reinstate the previous model for primary care support services, which were run in house by NHS England.

She argued there was “duplication” in the previous service due to its localised structure, that quality “varied greatly” and that the service was “simply unsustainable”.

“A new model with an efficient and modernised processes is the right approach to delivering our primary care providers with the service that they deserve,” she added.

Nick Bradley, NHS England lead for Unison, told HSJ Capita had failed to understand the complexity of work that primary care support staff undertake.

Mr Bradley said it would be “hugely expensive” if the NHS England were to try and put a new service together now “virtually every office” providing PCS services has been closed, and the previous PCS workforce has been made redundant.

Despite promises from both Capita and NHS England that services would improve, the British Medical Association this week said the service was “in chaos” after a survey of members revealed widespread ongoing problems.

Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s general practice committee, said: “Capita have gone beyond their own capability to sort the problem out because they don’t have previous experience of running these services.

“NHS England as a commissioner should also have been more wary regarding the procurement of this service to Capita given its previous experience of Shared Business Services [the previous PCS provider] which also has had pretty serious deficiencies.”

He added that because many PCS employees had nw left the service, “we’ve also lost the organisational memory and intelligence of staff”. This left NHS England in a “very difficult situation” because “re-procuring it to another provider who has no experience of the NHS would also pose problems”.

Responding to the BMA survey, NHS England said: “We know there have been serious issues with services delivered by Capita which have had an unacceptable impact on practices, which this survey clearly shows.

“We have always been clear that it is critical for the service to enable GPs to focus on patient care and required Capita to at least maintain the previous service and quality levels, sadly this has not happened.”

A Capita spokesman said: “NHS England contracted Capita to both streamline delivery of GP support services 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.

“We have mobilised extra people and management to ensure that we can deliver an improved service.”