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18.07.12

CQC criticises Serco's running of out-of-hours GP service

Private contractor Serco has been criticised for its poor running of an out-of-hours GP service for NHS Cornwall, in a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The CQC announced that Serco has not met four of the eight essential standards of quality and safety, and that the company has been given 14 days to produce a report on how it will deal with these shortcomings.

A team of inspectors and medical advisors made unannounced visits to five of Serco’s clinics and their call centre in April and May after whistleblowers alleged that staff shortages were putting patients at risk and that data was manipulated to hide missed targets.

The CQC report highlights the lack of qualified, skilled and experienced staff to cope with the demands of and number of patients. Doctors and clinical staff were forced to work double 13-hour shifts and other employees worked 11-hour daytime shifts.

Serco was also criticised for not having fully trained staff and how rarely it did staff appraisals. A quarter of its employees were revealed to have not undergone mandatory training. Not all of their staff were trained in the protection of vulnerable patients, so Serco also failed to meet the standard for safeguarding patients against abuse.

The allegations on false data in the monitoring quality of service targets were also found to be true, though the CQC stated that this is due to a poorly implemented system and computing problems and not a deliberate effort to mislead the public.

The report’s findings come at a time when government outsourcing is under increased scrutiny due to the G4S Olympics security fiasco. The Government intends to release more contracts into the private sector and Serco has announced that it still intends to bid for more NHS contracts.

Serco’s managing director of clinical services, Paul Forden, has said that the firm is already hiring more GPs to tackle staffing problems.

He said: “We acknowledge that at the time of the CQC visit earlier this year, we did not meet all aspects of four standards against which we were being audited.  One area was found to be of ‘minor’ concern and three to be of ‘moderate’ concern. 

“We can confirm that we have already implemented actions to ensure that three of the four areas have made progress and we consider that we have achieved the required standards. On the fourth recommendation on training we are 92% compliant today and will fully meet the requirement within the next month.

“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. We are confident that we will be able to fully satisfy the CQC that we are meeting all of the standards required when they next visit the service. 

“Patients and independent external bodies consistently rate the Cornwall GP out of hours service as one of the best in the country. Earlier this year, the Primary Care Foundation ranked it in the top quartile nationally and most recently this was supported in a survey carried out by Ipsos-Mori on behalf of the Department of Health.”

Dr Jeremy Mawer, Medical Director for the Out of Hours service said: “We are committed to providing high quality, accessible services that put our patients at the heart of everything we do. I am confident we have already implemented the majority of improvements identified in the CQC report and will have the remainder in place by mid August.”

(‘Doctor on call’ image copyright Edward Kimber, used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence.)

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