• Equiniti proposed to run support service with 650 staff – more than double the number proposed by successful bidders Capita 
  • Capita and NHS England have since come under heavy criticism for widespread service failures due to staffing problems

A rival bidder for NHS England’s ill-fated primary care support contract had proposed having around 340 more staff than the winning bid from Capita, HSJ has learned.

In 2015, NHS England awarded a seven year contract for primary care support services to Capita – worth around £47m per year – ahead of two other bidders from the private sector, Equiniti and Capgemini.

Capita’s service and NHS England’s procurement of the contract have since come under criticism from the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee following widely reported service failures.

In a report published in May 2018, the NAO said: “Capita acknowledges that it took longer than anticipated to make changes to primary care support services. It underestimated the number of staff that would be needed to deliver the services, in part due to inaccurate assumptions about the volume of activity.”

The report said the service failures may have put patient safety at risk.

According to multiple sources spoken to by HSJ, Equiniti’s bid for the service included provision for around 650 staff, whereas Capita planned to have just 314 staff.

Two years into the contract, following a series of service failures, Capita agreed to increase its staffing levels, and as of March 2018 had 739 staff working on the service.

In evidence submitted by Equiniti to the Public Accounts Committee, the organisation claimed: “During the procurement it was stated that we were the preferred option for the staff and trade unions. They preferred to join Equiniti rather than Capita.”

In a letter to then health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt, in July 2015, the Unison union asked the secretary of state to “reconsider” awarding the contract to Capita, following concerns that the provider was set to “operate the service with a hugely reduced workforce.”

Speaking about the procurement of the contract, Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s general practice committee, said NHS England and Capita “completely underestimated the complexity and importance of providing good back office staff”.

He added: “I think the fact that they [Capita] have had to increase staff shows they did get it wrong. Whilst NHS England might have saved £60m [over the life of the contract] it is GP practices that have paid the price.”

Equiniti, Capita and NHS England were all approached for comment.