It was almost two years ago that whistleblowers exposed the failings of the privatised out-of-hours GP service run by Serco in Cornwall. Yesterday, finally, they were vindicated. The powerful parliamentary public accounts committee summoned Serco and the NHS body responsible for commissioning them, the Cornwall primary care trust, and gave them the roasting they deserved for a culture of “lying and cheating” and for “shocking” inadequacies in writing and monitoring the contract.
The bigger question, however, is whether NHS patients will be any better protected in future as more services are put out to tender. Serco’s health business is growing rapidly – it has £300m worth of contracts in the sector. Other than a dent to its reputation, it has suffered no penalty. It has not been fined for lying and breaching its contract, nor has it lost the job. Its public-sector business just keeps getting bigger as its share price rises. If a private company behaved this way to another private company over a contract, it would find itself in court. Not so when rapacious corporates (the committee’s description) do business with the public sector. A small sorry is enough.