Private provider Serco has asked its NHS neighbours for help filling staff vacancies at Suffolk Community Healthcare amid concerns over its performance.
The company won a £140m three-year contract to deliver Suffolk community services in 2012, but is struggling to meet key targets on staffing and performance.
More than 70 posts are currently vacant, prompting Serco to seek staff on secondment from NHS organisations in order to fill the gaps.
Nursing Times understands the company has so far approached two NHS organisations to supply band 5 nurses and physiotherapists, both of which have rejected the request.
Serco director of community services Sharon Colclough said: “We are filling vacancies though a mixture of recruitment, secondments from other NHS organisations and use of bank and agency staff, as all NHS organisations and providers do – we are no different.
“This is how the health system works, as we are in effect competing for the same staff unless we work collaboratively,” she added.
Overall the service has failed to meet 49 out of 188 performance indicators, sparking local GP commissioners to launch a review “to address potential patient safety and quality issues”.
Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG has identified a range of concerns. These include staff capacity, skill mix, workload, succession planning and morale, training, communication, mobile working, care coordination centre processes, incidents and near miss incidents.
Serco is also failing to meet four-hour and 72-hour response time targets for community intervention and is struggling with other waiting times.
Commissioners have requested an action plan to address shortfalls, which could lead to fines if improvements are not forthcoming – though they appear patient to wait at present.
Julian Herbert, chief officer of Ipswich and East and West Suffolk CCG, said: “There have been some challenges, but I would expect nothing less in a long project with a new provider.”
When it took on the contract, Serco underbid the closest offer from an NHS provider by £10m. Less than a month after taking on running the service the company announced plans to axe 137 posts.
Tracey Lambert, head of health for Unison in the Eastern region, said she was not surprised by the problems facing the company. “Once again the privatisation of a previously excellent NHS service has caused damage to patient care,” she said.
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