THE BMA has criticised the ‘appalling’ failure by health privateer Capita to send cervical screening letters to up to 48,000 women. It has written to the chief executive of NHS England expressing its extreme concern after being made aware that up to 48,500 women have not received information regarding cervical cancer screening after a system error.
The BMA understands that the majority of the correspondence relates to appointment invitations or reminder letters, but that some are screening results.
This incident is the latest in a series of failings by Capita, the organisation contracted to provide GP back office services. In its letter to Simon Stevens, the BMA has urged NHS England to strip Capita of the contract and take Primary Care Support England (PCSE) services back in-house.
NHS England has assured the BMA that it has written to those affected and informed GP practices. The BMA is now informing its GP members, alerting them to the situation and preparing practices for the very understandable concerns and queries that patients are going to have.
GPs will do all they can to provide these women with support but there must be no suggestion that GPs and their teams bear the brunt of rectifying this unacceptable failing by a private company – something GPs have experienced in the past.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘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.
‘We know that, because of the nature of this procedure, many patients are already reluctant to attend these appointments, and therefore reminder letters are crucial to provide encouragement and reinforce the importance of having a cervical smear test done. Incidents like this, therefore, will hardly inspire confidence in the system and risk even fewer women getting checked.
‘Since it took responsibility for GP back room functions three years ago, Capita’s running of these services has been nothing short of shambolic and after repeated warnings from the BMA and government, this is now clear evidence that its failings have put patient safety – and possibly lives – at risk.
‘It is ultimately NHS England that bears overall responsibility and it must now take this service back in-house. ‘As the body which commissioned Capita to take on this work, despite clear warning signs that it was not up to the job, NHS England must shoulder the blame for this dreadful situation; you cannot outsource responsibility.’