In the Autumn of 2012, the multinational company Serco won a £140 million contract to provide community health services in Suffolk for three years - £10 million less than the price tendered by the NHS Trust which had previously provided these services in Suffolk. The BBC has now reported that NHS commissioners have found Serco is failing to meet eight key targets.
Unpublished figures show community intervention teams provided by Serco are not meeting urgent four-hour response targets for nurses and therapists to reach patients in their homes. In addition, non-emergency 72-hour targets have been missed and there have also been delays in carrying out health assessments for children in care and in producing the care plans needed for palliative patients. The BBC says it has heard concerns from nurses employed by Serco that staffing shortages have led to some Suffolk community intervention teams having no night cover.
NHS commissioners have raised a contract query and issued Serco with a "performance notice". The commissioners have also ordered a quality review to look at "potential patient safety issues" such as staff workloads, capacity and training. Failure to meet these targets could result in fines being levied in early 2014, according to the chief officer of the East and West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Groups, Julian Herbert.
The BBC also reports that the commissioners are "generally satisfied with the service and are working with Serco on a remedial action plan." Serco has commented that there has been a period of transition but it insists it is delivering a high level of care.
A tendering process for NHS contracts, worth £6 billion, is currently underway in England. Serco is one of nine providers shortlisted to bid for a £800 million contract, the largest contract ever tendered by the NHS. The contract is for the provision of services in Cambridgeshire for older people.
Camilla Wonnacott, clinical negligence case manager at Penningtons Manches LLP, commented: "Inevitably, there will be pressure on private companies to undercut current NHS service providers in order to win lucrative NHS service contracts. While the rising cost of NHS services is an important consideration, the care and safety of patients, particularly the elderly and the very young, must be paramount. We are yet to see whether the current tendering process provides top quality care as well as value for money.”