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Private company 'overstated' out-of-hours performance

A private out-of-hours provider has found itself in hot water after it ‘overstated’ its performance on its national quality requirements, says a report by the Government’s public spending watchdog.

An internal investigation revealed by the National Audit Office found employees at Serco – which is contracted to deliver out-of-hours services in Cornwall until 2016 – had made 252 ‘unauthorised’ changes to performance data during a six-month period, which were innappropriate.

The NAO said as a result, Serco’s performance was improved, in one case changing what should have been a red rating into a green one.

The report - published earlier this month - said: Serco’s performance in meeting the national quality requirements for out-of-hours services was overstated in seven instances.

‘In five cases, performance should have been rated as amber (partially compliant with the requirements) but was reported as green (fully compliant).

‘In one case, performance should have been rated as red (not compliant) but was reported as amber. And in one case, performance should have been rated as red but was reported as green.’

The report added that since their investigation, Serco had taken a ‘variety of steps to strengthen its internal controls’.

The report added: ‘Serco has emphasised that the changes made to performance data were wholly unacceptable, and the staff identified as responsible have left the company. In addition, the primary care trust has strengthened its oversight of the out-of-hours service and its
contract with Serco.’

Last July the service was told by the CQC that it had to improve the standard of its services and have a minimum of three GPs per shift. The CQC conducted a surprise inspection in December to check on whether previous staffing problems had been addressed at the Truro-based out of hours service. The commission found that there was a shortage of healthcare assistants on duty and Serco did not have enough staff to answer phone calls.

Dr Louis Warren, who manages the Serco out-of-hours service in Cornwall said: ‘The NAO has not only substantiated what the CQC and other reports have already shown – that the services is safe and well regarded by patients, but also confirms that we have taken swift and decisive action in response to the previous CQC report.’

Readers' comments (4)

  • What are the sanctions in play here. If it were a doctor (or other professional) who made these adjustments, they should be referred to the GMC (or other professional body). They tend not to like dishonesty.

    If it is not a professional, should the contract be withdrawn and perhaps put to tender, with a stipulation that the head of the organisation bidding should be a professional (Dr).

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  • Whilst i am no fan of Serco's involvement in the NHS it's worth pointing out that plenty of this goes on in Foundation Trusts. I know of an FT run minor injuries unit in a Primary Care Centre where the waiting time breaches are regualarly changed to something more 'acceptable' before sending the data onwards. the only difference is Serco were caught.

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  • 'The Primary Care Trust (inhereted by the CCGs?) has strengthened it's oversight of the out-of hours service and Serco' so in effect opening up services to private competition increases then need for non patient facing bureaucrats and an increase in remote oversight of contracts that if these breaches were to do with patient access and safety have been covered up by the company to meet its targets, in exactly the same way Francis Report has denounce,d without any significant sanction. Ah, this is the true spirit of the reforms - that companies make a profit out of reducing staffing and safety of patients whilst PCT (and subsequently CCGs) have their bureaucratic duties increased! I can see how this will save money and ensure patient focused NHS - profits leak out whilst mangement staff increase - what wonderfully succeessful evidence of this 'reform' we have here!

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  • As a previous comment mentioned plenty of NHS Trusts have been found to falsify their performance (and presumably some that haven't got caught too) so this isn't just an issue over competition.

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