A GP out-of-hours service run by Serco was understaffed and possibly overstating its performance, an investigation by the Care Quality Commission has found.

CQC inspectors said Serco’s out-of-hours service in Cornwall was failing four essential standards after it visited in response to concerns from staff and GPs.

They found GPs were working double shifts of up to 13 hours due to a staffing shortage which often led to them being pulled away from home visits to work in one of the out-of-hours clinics around the county.

The CQC also criticised Serco for its auditing procedures relating to a key performance indicator on its contract with Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Primary Care Trust.

Where a call was recorded as a “failure”, the company examined it and amended the record if, for example, a patient was late for an appointment. The company did not run a similar procedure for calls recorded as “achieved”, meaning there was no opportunity to correct any mistakes that made its performance look better. Its performance could therefore have been “overstated”.

PCT medical director Shelagh McCormick said the commissioner would examine the call logging system and had also commissioned an independent clinical review of the service.

“We believe the leaders and staff of Serco strive for an excellent service and we will help them achieve this consistently,” she added.

This is the first time the CQC has carried out a responsive review of an out-of-hours service since regulation of the sector began on 1 April this year.

Paul Forden, managing director of Serco’s clinical services, told HSJ many of the issues raised, such as recruitment of GPs, were common to most out-of-hours providers and being a private sector provider in the NHS made Serco an “easier target” for criticism.

He said the nature of the computer system meant it was “highly unlikely” achieved calls were being misreported and it would be inefficient to employ enough staff to check reports for all calls.

Serco accepted the CQC’s other concerns. It now employs 12 GPs and has improved safeguarding training, he said.