Serco out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall had ‘bullying culture’
The company which gives out-of-hours GP care in Cornwall did not meet national standards, falsified data and had a “bullying culture”.
The parliamentary report by the general public Accounts Committee examined failings by private contractor Serco in 2012.
It also found the out-of-hours service was still “not ok”.
Serco said it had taken “swift and decisive action to place the location right” and it had a customer satisfaction rating of 95% or higher.
The company has offered to repay £85,000 in performance-related bonuses which have been awarded for its work in 2012.
The British Medical Association said the federal government must make sure the “disgraceful situation” in Cornwall doesn’t happen again.
The select committee report said: “The standard of the service being provided by Serco in Cornwall isn’t adequate.
“Serco has struggled to make sure enough staff are available in to fill all its clinic and car shifts, even though it has increased staffing levels in recent months.
“It has consistently didn’t meet the national quality requirements with reference to the responsiveness of out-of-hours services and function remains to be falling short.”
In 2012 whistleblowers raised concerns about staffing levels on the out-of-hours service and claimed staff were falsifying data to make the service appear faster.
The report said evidence had proved the whistleblowers’ claims were “substantially true”.
It said the corporate gave the impression to have had a “bullying culture and management style which inhibited whistleblowers from being open within the patients’ interest”.
Margaret Hodge, the committee chairwoman, said the corporate had responded to the claims in a “bullying and heavy-handed style” and it was “disgraceful” the general public had needed to place confidence in whistleblowers to be informed the reality.
The report said Serco searched employees’ lockers in an try to identify the whistleblowers.
Dr Louis Warren from Serco said: “The report refers to quite a few issues that we faced last year.
“After we discovered these problems we took swift and decisive action to position the placement right and apologised to the folks of Cornwall.
“The service delivers a high standard against the national quality requirements.
“Patients and users of the service over the last two years consistently give the service a satisfaction rating of 95% or higher.”
The select committee report can be critical of Cornwall’s former primary care trust, which ceased to exist in April this year.
It said it was “deeply ineffective” in managing Serco’s performance.
It said it didn’t demonstrate it had the “appropriate skills” to barter with private service providers or hold them to account for poor performance.
Ms Hodge said: “The failures on this contract matter, for the reason that NHS could be making increasing use of non-public and voluntary providers to deliver NHS services.
“We have to have confidence within the ability of NHS commissioners to contract effectively, to observe rigorously, and to extract appropriate penalties and where necessary terminate contracts.
“None of those conditions were met in Cornwall.”
Andrew Abbott, director of operations for NHS Kernow, the clinical commissioning group which has replaced the first care trust, said the report had some “useful lessons” for the complete NHS in relation to contracts with private providers.
He said the contract “weakness”, which allowed bonuses to be paid to Serco despite poor performance, have been addressed.
“Now we have a way more open, constructive, honest but challenging… conversation with [Serco],” he said.
“We are able to understand what’s going on, what’s unlikely on, what’s improving and what must improve.”
The British Medical Association said the location in Cornwall demonstrated “an entire breakdown” within the system which was imagined to make sure that patient care wouldn’t be compromised when NHS services were taken over by a non-NHS provider.
It said: “The govt. must make it possible for this disgraceful situation doesn’t happen again.
“If we don’t get a grip at the problems exposed then we run the danger of seeing the failures in Cornwall becoming routine around the NHS.”
Serco has provided Cornwall’s out-of-hours GP service since 2006.
Its current five-year contract is worth £32m.
According to the select committee report, the 2 members of staff who were found to be falsifying performance had now left the corporate.