Capita – Does the Government Have Any Bottom Line?

BMA condemns ‘astonishing’ £94m three-year extension of Capita’s Primary Care Support England Contract, once again highlighting systemic failures in the outsourcing of public services. Sara Boyce  |  Mon Jun 20 2022
Capita – Does the Government Have Any Bottom Line?

The British Medical Association, the trade union and professional body for doctors in the UK, has condemned as ‘astonishing and disappointing’ the three year extension of Capita’s Primary Care Support England ( PCSE) contract. This extension is worth £94 million.

In August 2015, NHS England entered into a seven-year, £330 million contract with Capita Business Services Ltd (Capita) to deliver primary care support services, with the aim of saving 35% of costs.

Capita’s bid depended on it closing sites and delivering a major cutting back of services to meet NHS England’s objective to reduce its costs, such as introducing an online service for submitting GP payments and ordering medical supplies.

However, in* 2018, in a scathing report, the National Audit Office* ( NAO) slammed the outsourcing firm Capita for the ‘well below standard’ primary care support services it had provided to the NHS since it was awarded the contract in 2015. The report highlighted that while NHS England had saved significant sums of money, ‘value for money is not just about cost reduction’.

The NAO investigation was initiated on the back of serious and sustained concerns being raised by primary care providers, including delays in transferring medical records and problems with the responsiveness of the customer support centre.

Doctors in Unite (DiU) union have described a catalogue of failures affecting large numbers of GPs, dentists and optometrists, as well as patients.

Among the issues highlighted were the inability of 1,000 GPs, dentists and optometrists to work due to Capita’s bungling of their registration, delays and errors in processing payments causing cash flow problems in practices and errors in GP pensions. Evidence also emerged of female patients being removed from the cervical screening programme, thereby potentially placing them at serious risk.

Back then, doctors called for primary care support services to be brought back into the public sector immediately. Those calls were ignored. Instead, incomprehensibly, Capita has now been awarded for its appalling track record, by having its contract extended to the tune of £94 million.

While Capita does not have an equivalent contract in the north for Primary Care Support Services, it had and continues to have contracts with many of the Executive’s departments, including the Department for Communities for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Assessments, DOJ for Victims’ Pensions, as well as with Finance, Infrastructure, Agriculture and Economy. All of these contracts were awarded to Capita despite the serious and well-documented issues surrounding Capita’s performance, here and elsewhere.

Despite extensive and sustained criticism from many quarters, including the NI Public Services Ombudsman, politicians and the media, Capita’s contract to deliver Personal Independence Payments was extended in 2021 for a further two years, an extension worth £31 million.

In September 2021 the Right to Work: Right to Welfare campaign ( R2W), Advice NI, Advice North West and East Belfast Independent Advice Centre published the results of a survey of front-line advice workers regarding their experiences of CAPITA and the Department for Communities social security decision making processes.

Despite extensive and sustained criticism from many quarters, including the NI Public Services Ombudsman, politicians and the media, Capita’s contract to deliver Personal Independence Payments was extended in 2021 for a further two years, an extension worth £31 million.

The same question being asked of NHS England, regarding its extension of the PCSE contract with Capita, must also be asked of the Department for Communities and other Executive Departments – what is the bottom line regarding outsourcing public services to private, profit making companies such as Capita? Are we willing to accept any standard of treatment of people and public services in the name of ‘value for money’?

R2W is campaigning for a human rights compliant social security system. The Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA has said she is ‘dedicated to a rights-based approach to social security’. Yet it is clear that the involvement of Capita, with its track record of human rights abuses, is incompatible with a social security system based on human rights principles of dignity and respect.

In 2017 the Scottish Government announced a ban on the involvement of private companies in social security assessments. While the Scottish Government has been criticised around the roll-out of this new system, its principled starting point is one that is yet to even be embedded in our social security system.

The Department for Communities cannot knowingly continue to allow harm to be done to people who struggle with illness and disability on a daily basis. They must act and, in the words of PPR’s founder, Inez McCormack, ‘the time is now’.

PPR has developed the Corporate Network Explorer to help the public connect the dots between companies like Capita and the people who control them using available information provided by Companies House.

Read PPR’s profile of Capita here.