Out-of-hours services provide urgent primary care when GP surgeries are closed. In early 2012 whistleblowers raised concerns that the out-of-hours service in Cornwall was short staffed and that the contractor, Serco, had lied about its performance by altering data. Serco provides the service under a £32 million five-year contract with the primary care trust, NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, until 31 March 2013, and since 1 April 2013 with Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group.
Evidence has confirmed that what the whistleblowers in Cornwall were saying was substantially true. However, Serco appears to have had a bullying culture and management style which inhibited whistleblowers from being open in the patients' interest. The company responded to stories placed in the press by whistleblowers in a heavy handed way, launching internal investigations and searching employees lockers when issues were raised, and staff were fearful of raising concerns. Serco initially denied the concerns raised by whistleblowers and it was only after reports appeared in the press that it started to accept that things were wrong. Most concerning was the fact that Serco staff altered data on 252 occasions, resulting in Serco overstating the performance it reported to the primary care trust. Serco could not explain what motivated the two staff concerned to act in this way. These two staff were not paid a bonus, but Serco conceded that the contract manager had been paid a bonus which was linked to performance. The staff have since left the company. The terms of their departure included confidentiality agreements, but Serco offered no convincing explanation of why this was necessary.