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Figures reveal drop in performance after back-office functions outsourced to NHS Shared Business Services

Outsourcing PCT back-office functions to a controversial joint venture between the Department of Health and a private company has led to a sharp drop in performance in transferring GP records, figures obtained by former health minister Ben Bradshaw suggest.

In the East Midlands, the percentage of patient records transferred within six weeks fell from 91% to 76% after family health services were taken over by NHS Shared Business Services – a joint venture between the DH and private firm Steria.

And in north-east London, NHS SBS transferred only 35% of records within six weeks according to the statistics, compared with an average of 71% in other parts of the capital.

PCTs across the South West are now planning to award contracts to NHS SBS for back-office functions, despite LMC opposition, with NHS Cornwall the latest PCT to agree, and NHS Devon understood to be close to a deal.

Speaking in parliament, Mr Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, raised concerns use of NHS SBS would lead to a drop in performance in the South West, where he claimed 91% of records were currently transferred within six weeks. He warned of ‘central pressure’ on PCTs to sign deals.

A letter to the chief executive of NHS Wiltshire from Peter Coates, commercial director of the DH, said: ‘It is our strong conviction a single shared operation, undertaken in partnership with NHS SBS, is the most realistic, cost-effective way forward for the NHS.’

GP leaders and LMC representatives in the South West said it was essential the venture was ‘held to account’ if it failed to deliver.

Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, a GPC negotiator and a GP in St Columb Major, Cornwall, said: ‘We have had concern expressed from several areas about different aspects of NHS SBS. One is around accuracy and delays to payments to practices. We need to make sure NHS SBS is being held to account if it is not delivering its contract.’

Dr Mark Sanford-Wood, chair of Devon LMC, said: ‘We have had anxieties about shifting contracts to NHS SBS. However, we have received reassurances and it is now a case of seeing whether it performs against its KPIs. We are aware there have been problems elsewhere and have been very clear its operation in the South West has to be better.’

NHS SBS said Mr Bradshaw’s figures were ‘inconclusive and misleading’, and that its own analysis in the South West found only 46% of records were transferred within six weeks. Spokesperson Monica Owen said: ‘NHS SBS is responsible for one part of the process of transferring records. There are many touch points involving GPs, practice managers, courier services and mailrooms.’