Britain: cancer and Capita – NHS outsourcing disaster deepens

12 February 2019 — In Defence of Marxism

By Dan Langley, Royal College of Nursing (personal capacity)

Image: Socialist Appeal

On 14 November 2018, the British Medical Association (BMA) uncovered a system error by Capita, an outsourcing company responsible for ‘business processes’. Capita’s negligence led to 48,000 women not receiving their letters for cervical cancer screening and follow up, potentially putting many lives at risk.

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair at the time, stated:

“This is an incredibly serious situation, and it is frankly appalling that patients may now be at risk because of this gross error on the part of Capita. Some women will now be left extremely anxious because they have not received important correspondence, particularly letters about abnormal smear test results that need urgent follow up. This has been caused solely by Capita’s incompetence.”

In a rare act of omission, Capita reported that it failed to tell NHS England (NHSE) for months, having known about the issue as far back as August. Instead, they chose to wait until mid-October before releasing any information.

The profiteering firm left already overburdened GPs to resolve this issue – an issue caused by the privatisation and decimation of our NHS, as the Tories rip it apart in order to line the pockets of their big business friends.

The estimated number affected grew in December when NHSE reviewed the calamity, with a further 3,591 patients found to be at risk. Yet, this wasn’t enough for NHSE or the Department of Health (DoH) to take the contract away from this clearly incompetent company.

Fast forward to today, and another investigation has revealed that not only were Capita responsible for unsent letters, but that more than 150,000 cervical screening samples have been left waiting to be tested due to an insurmountable backlog. This has meant that thousands of results have not reached GP practices or patients for months.

Brutal Tory austerity measures have only exacerbated this problem, compounding Capita’s mistakes.

Litany of errors

Capita continue to claim that neither their errors with cervical screenings nor any of their other practices have put patients at risk. But this is bogus, as independent reviews from the National Audit Office have consistently found.

In June 2015, Capita was given a four-year contract worth £1bn as sole provider of several elements of the NHS. It was then afforded another seven-year contract worth £330m in September 2015. At this point it established the Primary Care Support England (PCSE), which has been described as ‘shambolic’ by health unions.

StopKillingOurNHS Image Socialist Appeal

Outsource company Capita’s negligence led to 48,000 women not receiving letters for cervical cancer screening and follow up, putting lives at risk / Image: Socialist Appeal

The tasks that these two contracts outline include: management of back-office GP administration; medical records and eligibility lists for GPs, opticians and dentists; patient correspondences; payment administration – and many others.

There were reports right from the start of Capita’s ineptitude with patient correspondences, such as their backlog of 500,000 patient registration letters. Moreover, the litany of crimes by Capita against our NHS is neverending. There are reports of the parasites overcharging hospitals for agency staff; giving false details and lying in order to gain agency contracts; not paying GP trainees, on more than one occasion; delays and losses of medical records; and even of medical supplies not being delivered.

No money has been saved through this course of action, pursued by the Tories and New Labour alike. Instead, outsourcing has costed taxpayers billions.

During this time, Capita actually closed 35 of its 38 support offices as its debts continued to skyrocket. And it cut stuff from 1300 to 650, prompting the NHS to intervene and shore up funding itself, meaning that Capita’s involvement was pointless. Meanwhile, the same ineptitude was also displayed over at the Department of Work and Pensions, where Capita created a huge backlog on Personal Independence Payments, forcing the department to intervene.

Nationalise the monopolies

1945 industry must serve labour poster Image public domainLabour and the trade unions must call not only for the re-nationalisation of our health service, but also parasitic outsourcing companies, the banks, and all those that profit from misery / Image: public domainThe responsibility for this deterioration of our health service lies with three culprits: Capita, for its failures and sheer incompetence; the Conservatives, who are more concerned with austerity than avoidable deaths; and NHSE, for not arguing or fighting to bring services back in-house.

Instead of letting Capita continually fleece taxpayers and put patients and livelihoods at risk, NHSE should have been demanding an end to privatisation and outsourcing, with an effective level of staff and clear regulations – ones that can’t just be circumvented in the pursuit of profit. It doesn’t take close inspection of the current austerity-driven outsourcing model to see the inescapable reality that this is just organised and legalised theft.

Capita is one of many recent examples – including G4S, Serco, and Carillion – demonstrating the myth of the efficiency of the market. Privatisation clearly is not more ‘cost effective’, as more and more similar reports show, and as the crisis of capitalism staggers on.

Labour and the trade unions must call not only for the re-nationalisation of our health service, but also for the nationalisation of these parasitic outsourcing companies, the banks, and all those that profit from misery. They deserve no compensation. They have robbed us for long enough.

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