'Patients have been “put at serious risk of harm” by the failure of a £330m outsourcing exercise which NHS England contracted to the private firm Capita in a bid to cut costs, the National Audit Office has warned.
Women were dropped from national cervical cancer screening programmes and medical records and supplies have gone undelivered because of NHS England’s “deeply unsatisfactory” contract, it said in a report.
In a damning review the auditors lamented the outsourcing failure of another major public contract, saying neither the NHS nor Capita understood the complexity of the service.
It follows two-and-a-half years of disruption for GPs, dentists, opticians, pharmacists and their patients as a result of NHS England’s ambition to cut its £90m-a-year bill for primary care back office services by a third.
The NAO was particularly scathing of NHS England’s inability to check Capita’s “aggressive” programme of office closures and redundancies, even when it became clear “it was having a harmful impact on service delivery”.
Health service leaders said the fallout is on-going and has prevented doctors from working at a time when the NHS is already struggling to recruit, and hoped this would be a lesson for future outsourcing efforts.
However NHS England said the deal has made savings of £60m so far, which can be reinvested in services. The NAO said the extent of any harm to patients – if any – will not be known for years to come.
“Although NHS England has saved significant sums of money, value for money is not just about cost reduction,” the report says.'
Read more: NHS cost-cutting Capita contract put 'patients at serious risk of harm', find auditors
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