‘Unsatisfactory’ Capita to be stripped of cervical screening contract


The NHS cervical cancer screening contract is to be removed from Capita and brought back in-house.

Speaking at a Public Accounts Committee in March NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said the health service had “not been satisfied” with the way Capita had handled the contract.

Instead, he announced, that NHS Digital will begin a phased take over of the contract from June, expected to be completed by 2020.

Bringing the contract back in house will include a move away from the National Health Application and Infrastructure Services (NHAIS) – the software currently used to provide screening – to a new system called Personal Demographic Service.

“We do not have confidence in Capita to undertake that transition and that is why we have determined that, together with NHS Digital, we will take that in house,” Stevens told the committee.

The British Medical Association (BMA), which wrote to Mr Stevens to express their “extreme concern” about Capita’s handling of the screening process after the firm’s bungling of screening invitations, welcomed the news.

Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GPs committee executive team member, said it was “only right” that the contract be removed from the professional services firm.

“Any transition process must be robust and not be done as a cost-cutting exercise at the expense of patient safety,” she added.

Responding to Mr Steven’s announcement a Capita spokeswoman said: “Returning administrative support of the cervical screening programme in England in-house is consistent with the approach in all other national screening programmes and will enable better integration across those programmes.

“We support NHS England’s decision as part of its broader review of screening services, and we will work together to ensure a seamless transition.”

Professional services firm Capita came under fire last year after it was revealed more than 48,000 women may not have received information about their cervical screening due to an administrative error.

The firm, which is responsible for distributing invitation and reminder letters about smear tests, confirmed that between January and June 2018 about 43,200 women due to receive letters were sent an invitation letter or a reminder, but not both.

And 4,508 letters detailing the results of smear tests were also delayed. Capita admitted a “small proportion” of these related to a need for further examination.

The BMA have also raised concerns about the “frankly shambolic” running of Capita’s GP support services.

A much anticipated national review into the three national screening programmes in England is currently underway, with a focus on technology.

Professor Sir Mike Richards is leading the review, which will include feedback on current and future IT systems and opportunities for the use of AI and other technology to aid the screening process.

The final report is due in summer 2019.

Responding to the announcement, charities called on NHS England to look at integrating screening invitations with GP records and speeding up the implementation of new technologies as part of its review.

They also called for greater investment in robust IT systems to improve dwindling attendance numbers and a focus on artificial intelligence (AI) in the future.

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