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Serco may be fined over Suffolk contract

Outsourcing firm Serco may be fined for failing to meet key targets in its community health services contract in Suffolk.

The company has been issued with a ‘performance notice’ and a review of its patient safety issues is being carried out. Eight performance targets have been issued and if Serco fails to meet them they will face fines in early 2014.

Serco won a £140 million, three-year contract to run Suffolk Community Healthcare in 2012. It delivers community healthcare services in partnership with South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust and Community Dental Services, but is the prime contractor.

Under the terms of the contract, Serco is responsible for community hospitals in Aldeburgh, Felixstowe and Newmarket as well as speech therapy and dental services.

However, according to unpublished report seen by the BBC, Serco’s community intervention teams are failing to get nurses and therapists to patients’ homes within the urgent four-hour response target.  

The report, written by clinical commissioners in Suffolk, also said Serco is not meeting its non-emergency 72 –hour targets and has still not produced care plans for palliative care and carrying out health assessments for children in care.

The BBC added that nurses had voiced concerns that staffing shortages meant some community intervention teams in Suffolk don’t have night covers which has led to patients being admitted to hospitals.

Julian Herbert, chief officer of East & West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: “Some of Serco’s speed of response is not as we’d like. And we’ve picked up areas about care leader availability and care plans being in place.

“There are areas where staff levels aren’t as we’d like them to be. Serco is looking to resolve those. It gives Serco a chance to put things right.

“If they aren’t put right, we then get to the point where we start financially penalising them, by taking money away from them if they don’t deliver.”

In general, however, the Suffolk commissioners have said they are satisfied with Serco’s service. Herbert said: "On the whole, it has gone well with Serco, and yes, there have been some challenges, but I would expect nothing less in a long project with a new provider."

Serco Health director of community services Sharon Colclough said: "Some teams have some vacancies and we are giving them additional support at this moment, but every service is delivering the kind of care that we expect them to. We are recruiting two posts now and we're supporting staff as much as we can.

"We're coming out of six months of transition and we're trying to embed the changes. I'm not saying that we have got it perfectly right but we are absolutely committed to getting it right.”

In a statement, the company said that while a review of the contract is under way it is "inaccurate and misleading" to describe it as a review into patient safety issues.

Serco claimed that all palliative care patients have care plans but that not all patients were registered with GP practices with a compatible computer system for transmitting the plans. Serco is working with those practices that do not have a compatible system.

The company added that "it is not true that staff shortages mean community intervention teams do not have cover at night".

The outsourcing firm has invested £4 million into the contract, which has gone on new computer systems and a 24-hour care co-ordination centre in Ipswich.

Serco’s £140 million bid to run the Suffolk contract was £10 million less than the former incumbent’s best offer.

The company has made a loss during its first year and told the BBC it doesn’t expect to make a profit during the whole contract.

Serco is currently one of nine bidders shortlisted for a £1 billion, five-year contract for integrated older people’s services in Cambridgeshire.

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Posted on: 12/11/2013

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