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Capita reliant on temporary staff with some ‘lacking basic computer skills’

Exclusive Capita primary care support centres are staffed by temporary agency staff on low wages, with some lacking basic computer skills, according to a whistleblower.

The information, passed to Pulse by a former employee, comes as GPs continue to experience problems with support services since NHS England outsourced the processes to Capita.

A person who used to work in an admin role in Capita’s primary care support team (PCSE) has told Pulse anonymously about a number of issues they came across during their time there – including one instance of a colleague accidentally deleting a file with 100 performers list applications.

Capita have said they ‘do not recognise the allegations’, and said they ‘paint a wholly misleading picture of the culture, skills and attitude of our people’.

It comes as Capita has been under fire for its primary care support services since overhauling the services in March last year, with the GPC stating that it had been a ‘chaotic mess’.

Covering a period during the autumn of 2016, the whistleblower outlined issues including lack of training, experience and knowledge among low-paid staff.

The former staff member told Pulse that:

  • Admin staff are hired in bulk by an external agency on a temporary contractual basis, and the attrition rate is high. Capita/PCSE spends an ‘incredible amount of man hours getting in new temps and trying to train them up’.
  • Admin staff are paid just 20p over minimum wage, at £7.50 per hour. Subsequently staff tend to have low levels of qualification, including some people without ‘even basic computer skills such as Excel and Word’, and a number are students looking for temporary income.
  • Most of the previous NHS staff working on primary care support were made redundant leaving ‘massive’ gaps in knowledge. Only one person was brought across who knew how to complete the full process required for registering GPs on the national performers list.
  • This led to a backlog and at one point there were 2,500 outstanding new national performers list applications, and ‘thousands’ more when including updates to details on the national performers lists. 
  • Management ‘were more concerned with how quickly you could shift the work out and spread it around to mask volumes, regardless of whether the work was actioned correctly or not’.
  • In one example, an employee accidentally deleted a file with over 100 performers list applications, without even noticing.
  • At one point in October ‘the generic PCSE Enquiries mailbox had emails unanswered from July’. The mailbox was ‘largely unmanned’ and some of the call centre staff ‘were absolutely clueless’.
  • There were cases where applicants had submitted their national performers list application in May/June/July, and ‘by October it had either been missed, misplaced, lost or just never actioned’.

This follows reported problems since March last year, resulting in huge backlogs of patient records movement, delays registering new GPs and missed payments.

A Capita spokesperson said: ‘We take information governance very seriously and have an open and transparent reporting process in line with NHS England processes and procedures, and we do not recognise the allegations made about our work processes or attitude to information governance whatsoever. The robust and timely processing of Performer List applications remains a key priority for us and we are currently making enhancements to this process.

‘The comments and conjecture that are allegedly attributed to an ex-employee do not accurately reflect the high standards that we expect, and paint a wholly misleading picture of the culture, skills and attitude of our people. All of our employees undertake thorough training in order to be efficient and effective in their specific service areas. We continually review our expertise and resource requirements to meet demand, employing people in a number of roles with different requirements across the country in which we pay comparable market rates.’

Support services disruption

Practices have been contending with significant disruption to payments, pensions, supplies and patient notes since Capita began overhauling services in March last year.

At the end of last year, the GPC warned that the service was still a ‘chaotic mess’ but practices have yet to be compensated for the disruption and additional workload they have suffered.

Last month, NHS England pledged that ‘significant improvements’ to general practice support services will be completed by April, as it seeks to return the services it outsourced last year to ‘acceptable’ levels.

But by then practices will have endured more than year of disruption, after Capita took over as NHS England’s national provider of primary care support in September 2015.

The move followed an NHS England cost-cutting drive where it slashed its £100m-a-year support services budget by 40% and has resulted in huge backlogs of patient records movement, delays registering new GPs and missed payments.