By Ian Quinn
Plans for call centres in India to handle GP and hospital appointments have been attacked by patient groups and the NHS Confederation, after the NHS body responsible for the proposals said it had begun talks to sign up GPs to the cost-cutting idea.
John Neilson, managing director of NHS Shared Business Services, claimed this week more than £1bn a year was being wasted by the ‘wild spending’ of NHS managers, and said the alternative to its plans for back office savings plans would be more cuts to services.
Pulse first reported last month that the body was telling GP consortia they could make huge savings by outsourcing up to half their back-office functions to India.
But Helen Wilkinson, spokeswoman for the Big Opt Out patient group, said there were major confidentiality and safety concerns with plans for foreign call centres.
She said: ‘There are clearly huge issues with regard to patient confidentiality and it would also fall outside the protection of the Data Protection Act.
‘I fail to see how a call centre in India could be entrusted with patient appointments without potentially putting patient care at risk, if nothing else because the staff will have had no knowledge of working within the NHS.’
The plan was also attacked by Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, who told the Times newspaper ‘it would be hard to see how a central call centre of GPs could be made to work’, adding ‘UK jobs could be lost and patients may not accept it’.
He said: ‘Ideas such as centralised IT procurement look good in theory but often founder when faced with the scale and complexity of the organisation.
‘You cannot mandate this sort of thing from Whitehall. The solution is in the hands of local managers and clinicians to decide on the trade-off between autonomy and economies of scale.’