NHS watchdog severely reprimands Serco - a private company providing out of hours GP services in Cornwall

 

An NHS watchdog has severely reprimanded a private company providing out of hours GP services in Cornwall which was short of staff, provided inadequate training, left patients facing long waits and manipulated its results.

Serco, which had a turnover of £4.6 billion in 2011 and is poised to win new contracts from the NHS under the changes introduced by the Health and Social Care Bill, made some doctors work double 13 hour shifts overnight and other staff work 11 hour daytime shifts.

The finding is a serious blow to the Coalition government’s  drive to introduce more private sector provision into the NHS, to stimulate competition and drive up standards.

One patient complained of having to wait at a clinic for 90 minutes. Another waited so long for a home visit they gave up and dialled 999.

Serco acknowledged that it had underestimated demand over the Easter weekend, and that it was unable to cover some GP shifts over the May Bank Holiday, meaning that people received a slower service.  The company has been given 14 days to explain how it will correct the failings exposed in the report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Ian Biggs, deputy director of CQC in the South said:

“At least half a million people depend on this service, so it is vital that it is properly staffed with properly qualified GPs who are available when people need them.

“At times, Serco has not had enough doctors on duty and it is hardly surprising that people have complained. Asking GPs and their drivers to work such long hours should be a last resort.”

Under the NHS bill, primary care trusts are due to divest themselves of services they provide by putting them out to tender, creating a potential bonanza for the private sector. The remaining bodies will be replaced by clinical commissioning groups responsible for purchasing services.

But the failings identified in Cornwall, where Serco provides out of hours GP services to a population of half a million,  are a damaging setback for  the policy and suggest private companies may not be up to the job.

 The CQC investigation was triggered by whistleblowers who alleged that patient safety was being threatened by the shortage of staff, inadequate record keeping and a bullying culture.

Inspectors made unannounced visits to the company’s call centre in Truro and five clinics during  April and May.  They found Serco was in breach of four of the eight essential standards, including failing to protect vulnerable adults and children from abuse.

Inspectors found the company had been manipulating its daily performance reports by altering incorrect entries which showed the service was failing to hit its targets. But it did not carry out similar checks on the accuracy of entries showing it had hit its targets – and inspectors found two examples of failed calls which had been wrongly classified as achieved.

The report said there was no evidence that the figures had been deliberately altered  to enhance performance but problems with the computer system had been known about for years and had not been resolved.

Although the company had a whistleblowing policy in place, some staff said they were worried about repercussions if they spoke out.

Mr Biggs said “We haven’t found that the company have been deliberately misleading the people of Cornwall about their performance, although quite clearly the system of monitoring performance is unreliable.

“When the managers correct the data, only the calls that would improve the overall daily performance are subject to checking and reclassification, so that must raise questions about the accuracy of the data. It is possible that the performance of the provider may be overstated in their reports.”

Serco had recruited more GPs and introduced a new system to cope more effectively with calls, the report said .

Paul Forden, Managing Director of Serco’s Clinical Services, said action had been taken to ensure the required standards were met.

“Patient safety and wellbeing is our first priority. We have taken and will continue to take any criticisms extremely seriously and we have fully cooperated with the CQC in their investigation,” he said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Purchase Ledger Administrator

    £5120 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the countr...

    Recruitment Genius: Engineering Surveyor

    £20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Support

    £9000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the countr...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

    £17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence