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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Andrew Gregory Health editor

Lords to investigate private health firms used to deliver NHS drugs

hands counting out pills in pill box
More than 500,000 patients rely on private companies contracted by the NHS to deliver essential medical supplies to their homes. Photograph: Grace Cary/Getty Images

Peers are launching an inquiry into private health companies paid millions of pounds to courier NHS medicines in England, after the Guardian exposed how sick children and adults were being harmed by botched, delayed or missed deliveries.

The House of Lords public services committee will examine “the extent of the problems in homecare medicine services”, and the impact on patients, clinicians and the wider health service. More than 500,000 patients and their families rely on private companies contracted by the NHS to deliver essential medical supplies and care to their homes.

A Guardian investigation revealed how Sciensus, Britain’s biggest provider of homecare medicines services, has struggled to provide a safe or reliable service. Seriously ill children as young as four have been let down, with some becoming sicker because of failings by the company.

Patients and medics have complained to Sciensus and to regulators, but little has changed.


Estelle Morris, the chair of the committee, said: “There are reports of missed deliveries, delays, and potentially significant health impacts for patients. Our inquiry will seek to examine how far these problems are occurring and the impact of these problems – both for individuals and the wider NHS.”

Announcing details of the inquiry, which will begin on Wednesday, Lady Morris added: “The government is increasingly focused on how to treat more people out of hospital and look after them in the community. Homecare medicine services could form part of the answer to this, and it is crucial that they – and the system – can be relied upon to give patients the care they need, when they need it. We have received feedback that this may not be the case at the moment.

“The services we will be looking at are private companies, which have a sometimes arms-length relationship with the NHS. We are looking at how they are governed, managed, and how standards are enforced. We will also examine transparency and accountability – someone has to take responsibility for getting this right.”

Sarah Sleet, the chief executive of Crohn’s & Colitis UK, a charity asked to give evidence to the committee, said she was “delighted” by the launch of the inquiry.

“We are grateful that the Guardian’s important investigative journalism has brought this issue to the fore. Patients deserve better and we hope this inquiry can bring about real change. We need all patients – whoever and wherever they are – to get a good quality service so that they can get on with treatment as their healthcare team has set out.”

Johnbosco Nwogbo, the lead campaigner of We Own It, a campaign group, said the launch of the inquiry was “brilliant news”, adding that it came after “really important work from the Guardian”.

“Finally, we’re starting to see action on the truly appalling treatment of vulnerable patients by private company Sciensus. No one should be left in the lurch without the medication they need.

“The Guardian played a vital role in bringing this about by shining light on the stories of patients who were fobbed off for months by Sciensus. We hope that this inquiry is only the first step in a series of decisive actions by parliament to clamp down on the conduct of this company and others like them.”

Sciensus, in previous statements to the Guardian, has repeatedly said it knew how important it was for people to get their medicine on time. It said it had a range of support services to help patients, including a priority helpline and same-day emergency dispensing and delivery.

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