A 23-year-old newly qualified optometrist, who asked to remain anonymous, has spent five months chasing her yet-to-be-finalised NHS National Performers List application. “It’s been an absolute nightmare,” she tells OT.
As well as delaying her approval, Capita sent her referees the wrong applicant’s name in its email message, and also mistakenly indicated that her application was for the “ophthalmologist register.”
She and her newly qualified peers have been caught up in the ongoing service provision issues by the outsourcing of Primary Care Support England (PCSE) administrative services to private firm Capita.
NHS transformation and corporate operations national director, Karen Wheeler, is the latest to criticise Capita’s performance as “unacceptable.” The company has put a stabilisation plan in place to address service delivery issues.
Capita’s lack of resources has significantly impacted General Ophthalmic Services payments, but has also delayed the processing of National Performers List applications for optometrists as well as GPs and dentists.
Following advice to apply early, the University of Bradford graduate sent off her initial application in May in anticipation of finishing her pre-reg year in July. She passed her Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) in July and received her General Optical Council number five days after applying.
However, five months and numerous phone calls and emails later, she is still unable to offer NHS sight tests, she said, adding: “You get told to send it off in advance, and you do that and you get nothing for it. What more can I do?”
PCSE guidelines state that applications will take 12 weeks to process, but warns if there are issues, such as missing or incorrect documents, the application will “take longer” – though no timeframes are mentioned.
She was told that her application had documents missing and, though she re-submitted a complete set in June, has been unable to get any sort of estimate as to when her application might be approved.
She has found Capita’s call centre staff unhelpful, she said, emphasising: “It’s just the same story – they have a backlog. It’s like they’ve got a script.”
The Performers List delays have impacted the young optometrist’s working life as well. The multiple that she did her pre-reg year with was able to offer her a role as a mobile optometrist, moving between their practices.
She said, although grateful to the company for retaining her, she has found the position very stressful so early in her career.
“I’m also trying to sort out all of this on my days off. I feel like I’m working on my days off,” she said.
She highlighted that many of her July OSCE peers are in the same boat. “Only a lucky few who sent it off really early have managed to get it done,” she emphasised.
The problem has extended beyond the individuals – many practices retained pre-reg students who are still waiting for their Performer List approval and therefore suffer financially when these optometrists cannot perform NHS sight tests.
She added: “Some are able to absorb that, but some aren’t.”
She hoped that Capita management would be able to clear the backlog shortly, and also streamline the application process. “It’s overcomplicated. I appreciate that checks have to be done…but if it was simplified, it could make these things so much smoother,” she explained, adding: “Now, it’s just a waiting game.”
A NHS England spokesperson told OT that: “This situation isn't good enough, Capita has been told to investigate this matter urgently, and sort out any similar issues.”
Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) managing director, Katrina Venerus, told OT that the delays to Performers List applications are having a severe impact across the profession. “Individuals and practice owners are really feeling the effects of this,” she emphasised.
LOCSU and the Optical Confederation are pushing NHS England and Capita to get the backlog resolved as soon as possible and were providing hands-on support to PCSE to get the applications processed, Ms Venerus said.
The annual peaks in Performers List applications and the complexity of the process were flagged up with Capita by the profession’s representatives before the service was outsourced to them, she explained, adding: “We’re still very concerned about the level of priority that this is being given.”
A Capita spokesperson told OT that: “While we don’t comment on individual cases, we have reviewed the number of applications that require urgent processing and these, with NHS England’s expertise and support, are our priority.
“Capita and the PCSE team have openly apologised to service users who have not received the consistent level of service quality that they should expect or that we would expect to provide. We take information governance very seriously and will investigate any complaints made,” the spokesperson added.
A list of frequently asked questions on Capita service issues is available on the LOCSU website.
Image credit: Isaac Bowen