Response to articles in Optician, 'Standing up for what is right' and 'Capita's failure to pay contractors has reached the point of scandal'

12 July 2016

Dear Editor

We are writing in response to the Editor’s comment and Moneo’s opinion piece in the 8 July 2016 edition of Optician and the accusation that the optical bodies have been ‘inactive’ in regards to late payments from Capita. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth and we would have welcomed the opportunity to comment before the articles were published.

Issues with reconciling ophthalmic payments emerged as a result of a move to batch processing of the payments by Capita in some areas early this year. We had warned NHS England and Capita about the problems this would cause and, although Capita had planned to move all areas to batch processing, this was halted due to the level of concerns raised by the Optical Confederation (OC) and LOCSU. We also pressed Capita for a mitigation process for areas where batching was in place, to enable contractors to reconcile payments. This took longer than we hoped but it is now in place and being test run in all affected areas. 

Around the same time, contractors in some areas started to experience issues with non-payment or partial payment of claims submitted. As these problems increased, it became apparent that there was not enough capacity or expertise within the new Leeds office which was handling much of the claims processing. This was compounded by the migration of work and the Capita’s haste to close local offices and shed staff.

These concerns were immediately raised via the Primary Care Services England (PCSE) Stakeholder Forum, on which the joint chairs of the OC Information and IT Committee sit (Peter Hampson, AOP, Paul Morris, FODO, and Katrina Venerus, LOCSU).  It was then escalated to the NHS England Service Management Team that manages the Capita contract and to Karen Wheeler, the responsible director on the NHS England Board.

As a result of our intervention, an urgent recovery plan was put in place which we are monitoring closely in conjunction with the NHS England Service Management Team. This has included recruitment by Capita of additional staff, a dedicated project manager to oversee the turnaround of the claims handling service and more senior staff being moved to resolve queries. A full audit of claims processed since February at the Leeds office has been undertaken and this is about to be reconciled with payments made, so that all outstanding under and over payment issues can be resolved.

Payment issues have been escalated by LOCSU to Capita’s senior team where contractors are facing potential cash flow problems and hundreds of special payments have been made as a result. The projection in the recovery plan is that they will have caught up with the backlog of payment queries by early August. There has also been a focus on training and improving operational processes, which is ongoing.  

LOCSU and the OC have negotiated a standardised process for contractors to claim interest, administration costs and bank charges on late payment of GOS fees by PCSE. This has been agreed in principle by NHS England and is going through the final stages of approval.  A proforma for making a claim will be circulated along with guidance for contractors as soon as the process has been fully signed off. 

In addition, the long waits to get through to the Customer Service Centre, problems logging onto the portal for ordering GOS forms and GOS forms being out of stock in some regions that were common in April and May are being resolved. Call answering times are now within target levels and the majority of the portal and stock issues are no longer an issue.

During this time, LOCSU has issued five hot briefs to LOCs and other representative bodies have kept their members informed through articles, emails and circulation of the hot briefs.  Anyone still experiencing problems should contact their OC representative body (ABDO, AOP or FODO) for further support.

Capita will shortly be conducting a customer service survey and we encourage contractors to make their views known.

Yours, 

Sir Anthony Garrett CBE, General Secretary, Association of British Dispensing Opticians

Henrietta Alderman, Chief Executive, Association of Optometrists

David Hewlett, Chief Executive, Federation of (Ophthalmic and Dispensing) Opticians

Katrina Venerus, Managing Director, Local Optical Committee Support Unit