THE chairman of Devon Doctors has confirmed that it has been in talks with Serco about taking on the out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall.
Serco has also confirmed that it is looking to offload the county's service to another contractor.
Serco, a private contractor responsible for out-of-hours GP services in Cornwall, has had talks with Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group, its NHS 'customer', to subcontract out the service to a specialist company.
Devon Doctors, which currently runs the out-of-hours service in the neighbouring county, has confirmed that it is one of those potential subcontractors.
Chairman David Hughes said: "I can confirm that some talks have taken, they are at a very early stage.
"No details and no hard and fast things have been confirmed yet.
"We have not met with the board yet to discuss this issue."
Dr Louis Warren, Serco’s director for the GP out-of-hours service in Cornwall, said: “We have been working with our NHS customer, Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group, to improve the integration of our service with other providers of unscheduled healthcare in the region.
“The NHS is considering a number of options to achieve this, including the possibility of the clinical elements of Serco’s service being delivered by a suitable specialist subcontractor of the necessary quality, capability and experience.
“At this stage no decision has been made. If such an arrangement were to be put in place, Serco would continue to be responsible and accountable to Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group for provision of the service.”
NHS Kernow’s director of operations Andrew Abbott said: “Serco has approached us about potential alternatives to the way the service is delivered at the moment and we are considering their suggestions. Until we have fully considered all the options we are not able to comment further."
Liberal Democrat Andrew George, MP for west Cornwall, said: "Serco should hand back the keys for the service. They've failed and now admit it.
"They shouldn't be able to determine how the service is delivered. We should use this opportunity to reintegrate the service."
Sarah Newton, MP for Truro and Falmouth, said: "It is for local doctors at Kernow Commissioning Group to decide who should provide out of hours GP care.
"I will continue to stress to the group my belief that the need for patients to see a local doctor when their surgery is closed should be the key consideration when making these decisions, and to highlight the high level of care that was provided when Kernow Doc ran the service.
"Personally, I feel that Kernow Doc should never have lost the contract to Serco and very much hope that lessons can be learnt from the problems that have subsequently affected the provision of out of hours care in Cornwall."
Serco was subjected to a two-day surprise inspection by the Care Quality Commission in July.
The firm has come under intense scrutiny and criticism, including a scathing attack in July by the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee, which called its service substandard.
In its newly-published report the CQC said important strides had been made and 'essential standards of quality and safety ... were being met'.
Most importantly, it said staffing levels 'a subject of criticism at a previous inspection' were now safe.