Private health company Serco admits ‘false data’ on out of hours GP service

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Posted 19/09/2012

A leading private contractor to the Government has admitted presenting false data to the NHS more than 250 times on the performance of its out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall. Following several allegations by whistleblowers, the NHS Cornwall primary care trust asked the company to audit its own performance.  

The allegations claimed that Serco was repeatedly so understaffed as to be unsafe, and claimed managers manipulated results when they failed to meet targets. Those allegations seem to have been proved correct, though Serco offer no explanation for the errors.

The chair of the powerful parliamentary public accounts committee, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, has asked the National Audit Office to investigate the case.

The former Tory health secretary and chair of the health select committee, Stephen Dorrell, has also condemned the company’s actions. He said the revelation raised wide-ranging concerns about oversight of contracting services which went to the core of maintaining quality in the NHS and should prompt a full review of the Serco contract period.

“To falsify returns once is once too many – to falsify 252 times represents a pattern of behaviour which should lead to a full review,” Dorrell said. Hodge said it was vital that as a growing number of private firms held contracts for delivering public services and took the taxpayer pound they were open to scrutiny. She said: “If there is any fraud it brings into question whether the company is fit and proper to provide public services. A fraud is a fraud is a fraud. It doesn’t matter what the scale is.”

Head of medical negligence law at Ashtons Legal is Sandra Patton. “Margaret Hodge mentions fraud,” Sandra points out. “This is quite shocking and an indication of the kind of dangers which the new NHS is facing when it is being fragmented and told to sell off its services to the private sector. Serco has no business being given huge lumps of our NHS from which to make profits. Its ethos is wholly unsuited to the principles of the NHS and it, and companies like it, will have an increasingly malign influence on the health of the nation.

Now it is beginning to spread its wings and look for more and more contracts across the country. It is about to take over community health services here in Suffolk, and there will be others. As West Cornwall MP Andrew George says, ‘this raises wider concerns about opening up even more of the NHS to private companies who, it seems, will go to any lengths to win and retain contracts’.”


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