NHS England and Capita misunderstood the risks in outsourcing primary care support services resulting in services to 39,000 GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists that were a long way below an acceptable standard. Capita’s performance against the contract has improved but widespread failures are still being experienced by primary care practitioners, says today’s report by the National Audit Office (NAO).
In August 2015, NHS England entered into a seven-year, £330 million contract with Capita to deliver primary care support services. NHS England aimed to reduce its costs by 35% from the first year of the contract and provide a high-quality and standardised service. Capita expected to make a loss of £64 million in the first two years of the contract, which it planned to recoup in later years.
NHS England’s decision to contract with Capita both to run existing services but also simultaneously to transform those services, was high risk. Capita was incentivised through the contract to close existing services to minimise its losses but the interaction between running, closing and transforming services was more complex than Capita or NHS England had anticipated.
Performance issues emerged in 2016 shortly after Capita started closing primary care support offices and making other changes to the service. Capita acknowledges that it made performance issues worse by continuing to close support offices in summer 2016 even though it was aware the customer service centre was struggling to meet demand at that time. NHS England was contractually unable to stop Capita’s aggressive office closure programme, even though it was having a harmful impact on service delivery.
Failure to deliver key aspects of the end-to-end service, delivered by Capita and other organisations, impacted primary care services and, potentially, put patients at risk of serious harm. For example, 87 women were notified incorrectly that they were no longer part of the cervical screening programme; processing issues led to an estimated 1,000 GPs, dentists and opticians being delayed from working with patients and some of these practitioners lost earnings. No actual harm to patients has been identified.
Users continue to experience poor delivery with seven severe service failures in February 2018. A number of organisations have contributed to underperformance as Capita relies on other organisations to provide some services.
NHS England has made savings, in line with expectations, of £60 million in the first two years of the contract, as the financial risk of increased costs sits with Capita who have made a £125 million loss over this period. To date, NHS England has deducted £5.3 million from payments to Capita as penalties for poor performance but it expects it may have to pay up to £3 million in compensation to primary care providers.
NHS England has not yet secured all the benefits it wanted to achieve as Capita’s transformation programme was halted while it focused on operational issues. NHS England remain concerned about three of the services – the national performers lists, payments to opticians and GP payments and pensions but recognises that some of the issues with them pre-date the contract with Capita.
Two and a half years into the contract basic principles are still not agreed, which limits NHS England’s ability to hold Capita to account. NHS England and Capita have still not agreed how to calculate 11 performance measures, and how these data should be used to calculate payments owed to Capita for delivering the services.
The NAO recommends that NHS England should determine whether all current services within the contract are best delivered through that contract or be should taken in-house by NHS England.