Capita criticised for slow transfer of NHS patient records

28 February 2019 5 min. read
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The consultancy implicated in the mishandling of almost 50,000 letters relating to cancer screening information across England has come under further scrutiny, this time for the transfer of medical records from English GPs to Scotland. Officials have cited Capita’s troubled English GP admin service as being at the heart of difficulties relating to the transferal of important documents between the two medical jurisdictions.

The NHS faces unprecedented demand from the challenges presented by an ageing population, and with state spending on the health system remaining limited, the institution is at a cross-roads in its existence. According to its Five Year Forward View plan, the NHS acknowledges that changes are needed to adapt to this new environment, and technological change is key to that process. This is something which has seen a boom in consulting spending by the institution in recent years, as well as an increased reliance on outsourcing.

One large beneficiary of this trend has been Capita, which, among other contracts, recently won a five-year role worth £5.7 million with Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT). The deal will see EPUT move to the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), a new data network designed to replace the NHS' legacy N3 model. The contract cleared in spite of heightened criticism of the firm’s relationship with the NHS, which even saw the firm forced to withdraw its sponsorship of the 2018 Social Worker of the Year Awards in Essex after a nominee and a judge protested the company's involvement.

Capita criticised for slow transfer of NHS patient records

At the same time, Capita has repeatedly come under heavy fire for its mishandling of almost 50,000 letters relating to cancer screening information across England. The professional services firm has worked as an administrative support outsourcer for the NHS since 2015, but in that capacity it failed to send the letters to patients, which included crucial information – such as hundreds of abnormal results – in their contents. Following a succession of complaints by GPs, the embattled firm – which spent 2018 attempting to improve prospects following a shock profit warning – was forced to invest £130 million to improve its service provision.

Despite that hefty expenditure, however, a report from healthcare sector news service Health Service Journal relates that Capita’s woes with the NHS are far from over. In February, HSJ stated it had obtained a letter from an NHS Scotland official which confirmed problems over the transfer of health records between English GPs and their Scottish counterparts. According to HSJ, the letter indicates that these transfers “deteriorated after England’s primary care support service was outsourced to Capita.”

The letter allegedly points to examples of poor service regarding this correlation. In one case, NHS Scotland is said to have sent multiple requests to Capita for one patient’s records, being left with no choice but to escalate the issue to national management at the PCS service, which the company runs for NHS England.

The case saw NHS Scotland send an initial, routine request to Capita in May 2018, when Bernard Saltmarsh registered at a new GP practice in Scotland, having moved from London. According to HSJ, this was followed by four urgent requests for the senior citizen's records, issued in May, October, and twice in November. NHS Scotland reported the situation to the PCS service management team of Capita in early December.

The delay was further exacerbated as Saltmarsh’s GP practice was slow to open the package containing years of medical notes. Fortunately, the records finally were received, though, and the patient reportedly did not suffer any adverse impact on his health. While this incident has drawn to a close, an NHS Scotland spokeswoman told NSJ that it is now turning its attention to “working with Capita to help them improve the process of records transfer.”

She added, “Processes and courier networks appear to be quite different now, we are working with Capita to ensure these link up better and any processes Capita implement include transfers to Scotland and that any escalation process put in place is one we can utilise to ensure we receive patient records more timely.”

Responding to the story, Capita stated that if a patient moves from England to Scotland, PCSE is responsible for collecting the record from the English practice and delivering it to one of the three practitioner services offices in Scotland. It added that at present, records collected are delivered to the practitioner services offices within 12 working days of release from the previous GP practice, “in line with NHS England’s expectations.”

To ensure an efficient transfer of records, PCSE is highly dependent on GP practices and third-party storage sites being able to identify and release full records in a timely manner. While this would seemingly shift blame away from Capita, however, it does not constitute a response to the suggestion that trouble with such transfers is alleged to have increased since the firm took up its contract, and is unlikely to satisfy Capita’s critics on the matter.