Hundreds of jobs threatened as NHS signs primary care deal
The seven-year outsourcing deal signed yesterday (11 August) between NHS England and Capita is putting hundreds of jobs at risk as local primary care support offices prepare to close across the country.
The £1bn contract, announced in June, will see the outsourcing firm take over primary care services from 1 September in an effort to decrease the cost of the service by 40% – as outlined in NHS England’s ‘transformation programme’ document on 23 July.
This will accompany hundreds of redundancies, potentially up to 700, as around 29 of 32 centres will be shut when the service is transferred to the private sector.
The contract also means that millions of patients’ confidential medical records will be taken from the public sector despite a written appeal from Unison to the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to reconsider the decision.
Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “Millions of patients’ medical records are now to be handed over to a private firm, without any public consultation whatsoever. And hundreds of dedicated NHS staff – whose work is essential to the efficient running of the health service – will lose their jobs.
“Private companies should not be making a mint out of essential services that are the very backbone of the NHS. Local knowledge will be lost as Capita closes all but two of the existing regional offices. It is hardly in the spirit of patient consultation that this entire process has taken place behind closed doors, with the public none the wiser and employees affected largely kept in the dark.”
The contract, estimated to deliver administrative support services for primary care valued up to £400m, also has the possibility of a three-year extension.
It was signed through a framework that allows for deals worth up to £1bn should NHS Wales or NHS Scotland agree to join the contract.
An NHS England spokesperson told NHE in a statement: "Capita's proposed plans respond to NHS England's objectives to realise significant savings and service improvements. These proposals have been shared with PCS service staff and the unions, and will form the basis of a full consultation about the impact of changes once the service has been transferred from NHS England to Capita.
"These proposals would release substantial administrative savings to reinvest in frontline health services."
However Dr Clive Peedell, co-leader of the NHA Party, said the handing of NHS contracts to private firms makes no “economic sense”.
He added: “The pursuit of private profit inevitably means staff cuts increasing the welfare bill and reducing spending power in local economies. Meanwhile this government’s ideological obsession with reducing the role of the state in delivering key public services gathers pace.”
Primary care support services are responsible for looking after medical records, prescription payments and the administrative and financial support to doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists.
Proposals outlined in NHS England’s July document also stated that Capita planned to deliver services from three multi-disciplinary locations at Clacton, Leeds and Preston, and would invest in a national customer support centre for all queries.
Services provided by SBS and Serco will continue as is until their contracts terminate on 31 March.
A Capita spokesperson said: “The movement and storage of medical records is currently delivered by multiple private sector suppliers, under contract to NHS England. Capita will be the single organisation responsible for the movement and storage of medical records and will introduce better tracking processes, providing NHS England with a service that is safer and more efficient.”
A BMA Spokesperson told NHE that GP practices need to have efficient back room support so they can manage medical records and other key administrative tasks that are vital to delivering effective patient care.
“The BMA has always had concerns about how any provider, whether NHS or commercial, could deliver a service that meets the needs of GP practices when such large cuts are being made to the resources in this area,” he said, adding: “We are also concerned about the principle behind this outsourcing, which effectively means that GP practices will lose long standing personal contacts with knowledgeable NHS staff members as these contracts tend to be run in a more remote, centralised way.”
NHE was told the BMA will continue to give its views to NHS England about how this important element of general practice operates, but the government must understand that deep cuts to parts of the NHS will inevitably affect the standard of service they provide.