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Serco turns to NHS for help to fill vacancies


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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Readers' comments (26)

  • I feel sorry for the patients and the poor staff who have found themselves working for this private company.

    The surrounding NHS Trusts should NOT offer Serco any help whatsoever: it would be like Burger King offering help to McDonalds; the government wanted private companies to bid - you reap what you sow.

    Of course Serco could fill all of its outstanding vacancies quite easily: they could offer staff equal or better than NHS T's & C's, they could offer all manner of things, but they choose not to.

    Serco has got its money, the shareholders have been paid so there's now nothing really in it for them - I'm sure they'll just shuffle off and the NHS will have to come back and pick up the pieces and try and sort out the mess.

    Let's hope Serco do-one sooner rather than later and the staff can get back to some kind of normality and the patients can get the care that they need and that they've paid for.

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  • Serco have a long record of running support services, particularly with the Ministry of Defence. You'll see Serco employees working on aircraft engineering, safety equipment and all sorts of things quite successfully. What this shows is that the Health Care sector is not something that private enterprise can deal with in the general arena. Nice little private clinics funded through relatively expensive health insurance yes, but general acute services no. Serco are a respected and able company and if they can't run it at break even, then the Government and other independent providers need to realise that.

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  • Anonymous | 15-Nov-2013 1:46 pm

    "Serco are a respected and able company...."

    Really? From yesterday's Guardian:

    "Serco, the outsourcing group at the centre of a string of investigations over government contracts, has issued a profit warning and announced hundreds of job losses.
    The group, which is being scrutinised by the Serious Fraud Office over allegations it charged for tagging offenders who were in prison or dead, admitted that a moratorium on new contracts for the Ministry of Justice meant that earnings would be "moderately lower" in 2014 than this year.
    Serco earns about 25% of its revenue from British government contracts and the its shares fell by nearly 17% on Thursday.
    The company said it was failing to win as many new deals as expected and would cut 400 jobs at a cost of £14m in 2013."

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  • oh what a surprise a private company that underbid to gain the contract, carnt actually do the job!!

    get rid of these idiots and get the service back to the NHS where it belongs

    tories and their privatisation of the NHS...all going great then!!

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  • Anon 15/11/13 1:46pm

    The company you mention is not a not-for-profit organisation: they are in it for the money, break-even doesn't come into it. They 'won' the contract by putting in an unrealistically low bid £10M or 7% (ish) below that of their nearest NHS competitor.

    7%, you might think, could easily be recouped by streamlining, getting rid of some expensive managers, working smarter etc., but tack-on to that the 5% (minimum) shareholders profit then you're now looking at a budget at least 12% of that needed to run the service.

    Had the company put in a realistic bid in the first place it would've been able to provide the service for which it had been commissioned. It would've been able to retain staff as it would've been able to offer AfC T's & C's and staff would've been able to remain in the NHS pension scheme - which is the 'biggy' for most people. The company chose not to do this and that's why they're now struggling.

    It's the poor patients and staff I feel for not the multinational who will move onto the next project once the money's gone from this one!

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  • Isn't this the same company that wanted to cut 137 posts last year in the same trust and is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud office?

    Why don't they just leave the NHS to those who care about it?

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  • NO NO NO - let them go under and take back into NHS hands, when will commissioners, government, banks etc understand that private sector means if you can't make a profit on what you bid AND provide a quality service you should not be bidding for it. Sick of private companies, banks and CEOs creaming off money from the public sector then leaving us in the lurch with poor services and leaving us to pay for the mess twice.

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  • Cancel all their contracts pending the outcome of the investigation, put into hands of administrators and recoup every penny paid to them for fraudulently claimed renumeration.

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  • Tinkerbell

    Put in a mickey mouse bid just to get the contract, find you can't do the job, call on the NHS to sort it out for you (further depleting NHS staffing levels) payout shareholders, then go bankrupt.

    Start up again somewhere else under a different name then put in a mickey mouse bid etc etc.,

    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"

    Think you'll find you are. The private sector healthcare club MUST make a profit despite any consequences.

    NHS can pick up the pieces, well for the moment anyway until it is completely sold off.

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  • tinkerbell | 15-Nov-2013 8:49 pm

    'NHS can pick up the pieces, well for the moment anyway until it is completely sold off.'

    Unfortunately, I agree with you. I wish the public would wake up and realise what is happening, that is where the voice lies. With the current NHS bashing, it's likely to have the opposite effect, sadly.

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