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Suffolk: Community healthcare service is “deteriorating” as report raises concerns about Serco performance

PUBLISHED: 17:09 15 January 2014 | UPDATED: 17:09 15 January 2014

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Bosses at the private firm providing community healthcare in Suffolk were told last night they must make immediate improvements after a scathing report revealed a catalogue of failings.

Delays of up to five months in providing equipment, such as specialist beds, slings and hoists, and poor communication were among the concerns raised about the performance of the Community Equipment Service (CES), part of Serco-run Suffolk Community Healthcare.

Health chiefs say the report, released ahead of a county council health scrutiny committee meeting next week, show there are issues which need to be urgently addressed to rectify a “deteriorating” service.

Particularly singled out for criticism has been the delay in equipment provision, which the report says has a negative affect on the independence of patients.

Alan Murray, county council cabinet member for health and adult care, said: “The service is not improving, if anything it is deteriorating. My department is trying to work very hard with Serco management to improve the current situation which we are finding increasingly unacceptable.

“The delays in equipment delivery is unacceptable.

“The only thing that matters, ultimately, is the users, carers and their families.”

The report has also stated that the county council has had delays in receiving invoices from CES and when they have eventually been received, they have not had enough supporting detail and contained “significant errors”.

There have also been concerns about difficulties in contacting CES stores.

A spokesman for the Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups said: “The Health Scrutiny Committee met with the CCGs and Serco Suffolk Community Healthcare last year. This is a follow-up meeting to find out how the NHS contract for community services in Suffolk is performing.

“The CCGs monitor the performance of the contract and report to the governing bodies on a regular basis. There have been some actions we have taken through our contracting and clinical quality teams to improve performance, including the community equipment service. We are continuing to work with Serco and where necessary changes are being implemented so that the needs of patients are met and the planned transformation of services continues.”

It is just over a year since Serco officially took on the role of providing community health services, which includes district nurses and community hospitals, to about 600,000 patients in Suffolk.

The CES is an integrated service providing equipment for people with health and social care needs.

It is not the first time Serco has faced pressure from health officials and groups. In November they were told “the honeymoon is over” during a CCG meeting for failing to meet key targets.

Patrick Birchall, Chief Executive of Suffolk Community Healthcare, said: “Serco is working closely with the council and the CCG to provide high-quality services and we are working hard to make further improvements for our patients.

“We have only just received the papers, which include new information that has not been raised with us previously. This is a complex service, so it will take some time to check the details.

“We will discuss the paper with the health scrutiny committee next week and our response will be made publicly available.”

The Health Scrutiny Committee will meet on January 22.

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