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Out of Hours Doctors "Regularly" Did Not Have Enough Staff

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7:01am 7th March 2013

A fresh report has laid into Cornwall's out of hours GPs.

It says Serco "regularly" did not have enough staff to run the service last year.

The National Audit Office says whistleblowers who raised concerns should get more protection.

It says: "During 2012 Serco regularly had insufficient staff to fill all clinical shifts. It also frequently redeployed some GPs, taking them out of the cars available for home visits and using them to cover clinic shifts instead. In July 2012, the Care Quality Commission reported that the out-of-hours service did not have enough qualified, skilled and experienced staff to meet people's needs. When it inspected the service again in December 2012 the Commission found that, although the number of clinical staff had increased, Serco needed to take further action because there were not enough health advisers who handle incoming calls."

It also found Serco has consistently failed to meet national quality requirements but says performance is now recovering.

The NAO report was ordered by the chairwoman of the public accounts committee Margaret Hodge.

She said: "Serco’s performance in a £32m 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.

"It is simply not good enough that neither Serco nor the PCT detected these problems. 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."

In a statement, NHS Cornwall, accused of not doing enough to monitor performance, said: ""We welcome this comprehensive report from the NAO into concerns relating to the provision of the Out of Hours service provided by Serco, particularly the commitment to ensuring whistleblowers feel protected and able to contact us with confidence in future.

"We will review all of the recommendations and ensure these are built in to how we  monitor the contract to reinforce the quality standards set out nationally and locally for this service.

"We recognise the need to ensure that safe staffing levels are maintained within this service going forward, recognising that providers have the responsibility for their staffing levels. Our role is to ensure providers' services meet all key performance indicators and National Quality Requirements. We are working with Serco to ensure all actions within the NAO report are addressed."

7:01am 7th March 2013

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