999 memo 'poorly written' says GP service
An out-of-hours GP service has denied putting patients at risk after a leaked internal memo suggested staff manipulate calls classed as "999" to maintain performance targets.
The memo from managers Stephanie Gray-Roberts and Michelle Bennett indicated Serco staff in Cornwall had three minutes to resolve calls classed as being serious enough to be an emergency by "closing" them or calling for an ambulance.
It suggested they should "stop the clock" on such calls by changing an answer on the previous screen in the computer processing system to avoid risk of failing "one of our key performance indicators".
The e-mail said this would allow call handlers to consult with "floorwalkers" who would decide whether the calls should be referred to the ambulance service.
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When asked to explain, Serco said it was "written poorly."
In a statement it said: "We understand that the internal briefing note that suggests that this is being done in order to somehow meet performance indicators and 'stop the clock' is both wholly inaccurate and misleading.
"However, this does not affect the performance-measurement system in our service, which tracks the time starting from completion of the clinical decision until the transfer to the ambulance service. This is entirely correct and appropriate. Nor do the systems in any way change the performance that is reported to the PCT (primary care trust) and they actually ensure more accurate reporting. All of these measures are taken in a completely open and transparent manner with the agreement and understanding of both the PCT and the South West Ambulance Trust.
"We strongly refute that this is in any way inappropriate or that we in any way compromise patient safety."
St Ives MP Andrew George asked for an explanation from Serco and the PCT.
Mr George said: "Perhaps it is time to recognise that it is no longer appropriate that companies providing essential services effectively control their own evaluation; at least control the data collection on which they are assessed.
"It would be a pity to have to put in place/embed an independent assessor or verifier but in order to both protect patient care and ensure the company providing the service is not misrepresented – if that is what has happened in this case – then that is what needs to happen. If they have nothing to hide they will have nothing to fear from such a change."