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PAC Chair statement on out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall

7 March 2013

The National Audit Office (NAO) today releases a memorandum on the provision of the out-of-hours GT service in Cornwall.

Statement from the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts: 

"When people need urgent assistance from a doctor but surgeries are shut, they turn to out-of-hours GP services. Serco’s performance in a £32million contract to provide out-of-hours care in Cornwall has fallen unacceptably short of essential standards of quality and safety.

"Although no evidence suggests that patients have received unsafe care, it is shocking that there were not enough people on the job.

"I find it disgraceful that Serco staff fiddled the figures on an astonishing 252 occasions between January and June 2012. This tampering presented a false, much rosier picture of its poor performance.

"In one instance, Serco falsely claimed that 100% of emergency callers received a face-to-face appointment within 60 minutes when in reality it was only 75%, falling short of the performance standard.

"It is simply not good enough that neither Serco nor the PCT detected these problems. Furthermore, I find it deeply troubling that while a whistleblower policy was in place, in practice, Serco’s working culture meant that people trying to raise the alarm felt fearful of doing so.

"As the appalling failures in Mid-Staffordshire demonstrated, it is essential that there are effective whistleblowing processes and the right culture across the whole of the NHS and its contractors.

"The lessons from this episode are clear. Serco needs to raise its game and demonstrate that it is accurate and honest in reporting its performance.

"The PCT and, from April, the clinical commissioning group need to monitor every heartbeat of Serco’s performance, be watchful for substandard service and take a firm line against poor performance. The PCT must be ready to penalise false reporting and services that fall short of essential standards.

"More generally, out-of-hours contracts must establish a strong link between quality and payment incentives."

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