Suffolk: Community health services in county are failing to meet targets – but fines are not on the agenda, say health chiefs


- Credit: EDP, Archant

Union chiefs raised concerns last night about the treatment of patients in Suffolk as a report revealed the firm charged with running the county’s community health services is failing to meet key targets.

Bosses at Serco say they are still delivering a high level of patient care as it emerged a review of its contract was under way, which will cover patient wellbeing and safety.

According to a performance report released in September this year, the company has fallen short in a number of key target areas.

This includes the percentage of phone calls answered within 30 seconds and the percentage of patients who require a joint community rehabilitation having a care plan in place ahead of discharge from hospital, according to the report.

Officials at Unison claim the report shows the decision to have a company run healthcare services has not worked.

Unison eastern region head of health, Tracey Lambert, said: “In 2012 we highlighted the inherent dangers in awarding the contract to Serco. These have been exacerbated following the redundancies earlier this year.

“Unison has raised with Serco numerous concerns, we are aware the company is unable to fill vacancies and is asking local NHS trusts to second staff to help deliver services.

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“Once again the privatisation of a previously excellent NHS service has caused damage to patient care.

“Serco ought to be sacked and the services brought back into the NHS, to prevent further damage.”

The East and West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Groups have admitted there have been difficulties but stress they are confident they will be dealt with.

However, they said reports of fines being issued to Serco for failing to meet key targets would be a last resort and is not currently in the mind of health chiefs.

Julian Herbert, chief officer of Ipswich and East and West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: “This was always going to be a massive transformation project. We as commissioners wanted to see better patient outcomes and a better way of working with local providers.

“On the whole it has gone well with Serco, and yes, there have been some challenges, but I would expect nothing less in a long project with a new provider.”

Despite failing to meet some targets, the company said there have also been achievements, which includes the average length of stay in its community hospitals reducing from 29.11 to 22.6 days over the last six months.

The time taken to answer out of hours was also meeting targets.

Sharon Colclough, Serco director of community services, added: “Over the last six months we have been undertaking major transformational change in line with the vision for Suffolk Community Healthcare.

“Our patient feedback continues to be excellent in our community hospitals and community teams.

“Our Friends and Family Test results show that 76% of all patients and carers would recommend us, compared with the national average of 64% across the whole of the NHS.”