NHS England's decision to outsource primary care services to Capita had the 'potential to seriously harm patients', a report by Government auditors has revealed.

In 2015, NHS England signed a seven-year contract worth £330m with Capita to deliver primary care support England (PCSE) services and save 35% of costs.

An investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that both NHS England and Capita failed to fulfil their PCSE roles.

'Both parties misjudged the scale and nature of the risk in outsourcing these services. The service to primary care practitioners, including Capita's delivery of PCSE, has fallen a long way below an acceptable standard. This had an impact on the delivery of primary care services and had the potential to seriously harm patients, although no actual harm to patients has been identified,' the NAO said.

A Capita spokesperson told The Pharmacist: ‘It has been acknowledged that performance has improved and Capita will continue to work with all parties to address the remaining service issues.’

An NHS England spokesperson told The Pharmacist that although making this change over the past two years was not without its difficulties, it ‘successfully saved taxpayers £60m’.

They added: ‘This £60m in lower administrative cost has all been successfully reinvested in frontline NHS patient care and has helped fund the equivalent of an extra 30,000 operations.’

Impact on pharmacy

Only 41% of pharmacists’ market entry applications were processed by Capita within 70 days in November 2017. In one case, one pharmacist was unable to retire, according to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).

The way the services were handled resulted in delays in delivering vital controlled stationery and failure to issue the required notifications around market entry provisions among others, it said.

Capita said it recognised that the complexity of the support services being let by NHS England was ‘not fully understood when the contract was signed’.

It continued: ‘The report notes that several organisations and legacy issues all contributed to underperformance.

‘We have accepted accountability for not meeting our high standards of service previously. Our new strategy will ensure we focus on doing fewer things better and securing business that we know can be delivered well.

‘Dismay and disappointment’

 In 2016, PSNC sought action from NHS England over dismaying and disappointing service levels.

PSNC director of operations and support Gordon Hockey said: ‘We’re pleased our work to raise the matter and push for improvements has had some impact, with services generally improving since 2016, but we will continue to work closely with pharmacies, LPCs and Capita to ensure this continues.

‘We must have confidence that PCS England is offering a consistently good service to pharmacies across the country.’

The report can be found here.