A leading private health company, poised to win much of the new wave of NHSoutsourcing contracts, is under investigation for allegedly providing an “unsafe” out-of-hours GP service, and over claims that it manipulated results where it failed to meet targets.
Serco, which runs a large range of outsourced services for the government and local authorities, was subject to an unannounced inspection by NHS watchdogs in Cornwall last month in response to whistleblowers who claim that it:
• allowed queues of up to 90 patients at a time to build up at its telephone helpline;
• met its targets, in part, by adjusting figures to blame delays on patients;
• rang at least one patient who had waited too long to see a doctor to give them a new waiting target instead;
• repeatedly took visiting doctors off roving duties in order to operate clinics and hotlines because it had too few staff on duty to cover the county.
Many of the concerns appear to be supported by evidence gathered in a Guardian investigation that has drawn on data from computer records, drivers’ logs, internal correspondence and interviews with several sources connected with different parts of the Serco operation in Cornwall who have asked to remain anonymous.
Serco has also confirmed some of the allegations. But it denies that the service is unsafe and says it is acting within the terms of its contract with the local primary care trust, which allows it to adjust waiting time figures according to who was to blame and make “comfort calls” to patients who have waited a long time. It did not comment on the whistleblower reports of how many patients were left waiting to be assessed at its call centre.