Serco gave NHS false data about its GP service 252 times
An independent review into out-of-hours doctor service run by Serco has uncovered it gave NHS false data about its GP service 252 times.
Whistleblowers had alleged Serco was repeatedly so understaffed as to be unsafe and claimed that managers manipulated its results.
The chair of the parliamentary public accounts committee, the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, has asked the National Audit Office to investigate the case.
The chief executive of NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, to which Serco is contracted, said he was “disappointed” by the findings that have been published in a report by the primary care trust.
Included in this are the findings of an independent review carried out by Dr David Colin-Thomè, who describes Serco’s service as safe and effective while at the same time facing challenges with clinical staffing and service levels in the recent past, adding: "an important caveat: until significant problems are all rectified I cannot say with certainty that the service will remain safe".
Dr Colin-Thomè has made a number of recommendations that will be considered by the PCT board at its public meeting next Tuesday (September 25).
The board will also receive an update on the further work carried out by Serco looking at its data recording processes.
This has shown that computer records were changed and there was “insufficient justification” for those changes.
The PCT has been told they were unauthorised and involved 0.2 per cent of records between January and June this year.
However, this only covered the first six months of this year when the company had already been told it was under scrutiny. The health regulator the Care Quality Commission has reported that staff said that the data manipulation went back four years or more.
Serco has since apologised and will work with the PCT to strengthen its data handling procedures and controls, to ensure consistent reporting in future.
Andrew George MP for West Cornwall said he is “not reassured” by the report.
Mr George (who is also a member of the Health Select Committee), raised concerns before the PCT commissioned Serco to continue the Out of Hours GP service for another five years in October 2011. He then took matters to the Care Quality Commission early this year. His justification for reporting the matter was upheld by the CQC’s damming Report in July.
Mr George said: “The report confirms that managers deliberately altered data. The data manipulation would have helped Serco present figures which would have inflated its response time targets.
“Data was altered on 252 occasions between January and June this year – a period when Serco knew that it was already under heavy scrutiny and was no doubt trying to clean up its act. It was also the period when I had referred the matter to the Care Quality Commission and when the CQC commenced and completed its investigation. It was the period before this in 2011when I fear such data manipulation would have been worse.
“On top of this, the scrutiny of Serco’s data handling records was undertaken by Serco. Not independently.
“The PCT criticised me heavily me for raising concerns and blowing the whistle on the service that many of us knew was not as good as the many plaudits heaped on it by itself and the PCT.
“This also raises wider concerns about the wisdom of opening up even more of the NHS to private companies who, it seems, may be prepared to go to any lengths to win and retain NHS contracts.
“Government Ministers should reflect carefully before rushing on with its potentially reckless gamble of turning public health services into a private market.”
The PCT will now carry out independent validation of Serco’s report, which will be repeated in six months.
Steve Moore, chief executive of NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, said: “I was disappointed to learn that some of the data we received to measure performance was inaccurate although the number of inaccurate records was small.
“I am clear that Serco did not gain from these actions and they have issued a full apology to us.
“I am pleased to say that patient satisfaction with the service remains high and Serco is working constructively with us to address the issues raised by our review. We are confident that their aim is the same as ours, to provide a consistently high quality service to the people of Cornwall.”
Serco said it welcomed the PCT board report, which also includes results of patient and GP surveys.
Paul Forden, managing director of Serco’s clinical healthcare business, said: “As Dr Colin-Thomè’s report states, ‘I did not find any evidence that the current OOH service is or has been systematically clinically unsafe’.
“The report also acknowledges that we have put in place an action plan to address all the issues raised in the earlier CQC report.
“This is making excellent progress and all the required actions will be complete by the end of this month. We are pleased that our service continues to be highly rated in independent patient surveys.”
He added that revised protocols over data recording were now in place.
Mr Forden added: “We apologise that this has happened. We have undertaken this very detailed review and worked openly and transparently with the PCT.
“However we are not in any way complacent and we recognise that we have a number of improvements to implement following the PCT, the CQC and Dr Colin-Thome reports.
“We are continuing to work closely with the PCT to put these changes in place and improve the service what we are proud to deliver throughout Cornwall.”