Under-fire Serco looks to use Devon rival for out-of-hours GP work
A much criticised multi-national firm running Cornwall's out-of-hours GP service could hand over vital elements of their contract to a rival across the Tamar.
Serco is in currently in discussion over sub-contracting to Devon Doctors, the not-for-profit GP-owned organisation which delivers non-urgent care in the county.
Chris Wright, chief executive of Devon Doctors, said a board meeting was being held tomorrow when it would be decided whether to press ahead.
He declined to go into detail in advance, but said: "It's fair to say that we would not have been talking if we didn't think it was do-able."
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He confirmed discussions were under way with Serco and NHS Kernow, the GP-led clinical commissioning group (CCG) which buys healthcare for patients.
"We do support the idea of GP out-of-hours services that is owned by local GPs and where local GPs work in the service and that it is not for profit.
"That's what we are and we are not going to do anything different."
Mr Wright said that Devon Doctors did not approach Serco in the first instance.
He added that they were "aware" of Serco's controversial history at the helm of the service since taking over from a Cornish GP consortium in 2006.
Earlier this year, the powerful Public Accounts Committee of MPs delivered a scathing verdict on the operation accusing it of "bullying" staff and offering a "sub-standard" service to patients.
The fierce criticism followed an investigation in which it had emerged staff altered NHS data 252 times.
Dr Louis Warren, Serco's Director for the GP Out-of-Hours service in Cornwall, said they were in talks about part of their "clinical" contract being delivered by another provider.
"The NHS is considering a number of options to achieve this, including the possibility of the clinical elements of Serco's service being delivered by a suitable specialist sub-contractor of the necessary quality, capability and experience.
"At this stage no decision has been made. If such an arrangement were to be put in place, Serco would continue to be responsible and accountable to Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group for provision of the service."
Andrew Abbott director of operations at the CCG said it had been looking at how out-of-hours care was delivered in Cornwall.
"Serco has approached us about potential alternatives to the way the service is delivered at the moment and we are considering their suggestions."
St Ives MP Andrew George, a member of the powerful Health Select Committee who has frequently criticised Serco, said the firm should just walk away altogether.
"The best thing would be for Serco to simply hand back the keys. Sub-dividing and then sub-contracting the GP cover will only further fragment our core health services – something we should avoid at all costs."