In view of all the press the NHS has received lately you may be wondering if there is anything else that could surprise you about the health service – well actually unfortunately yes there is.
Hot on the heels of reports of hospital and ward closures across the UK we now hear the shocking news that it has come to light that a massive 500,000 pieces of patient information have gone undelivered in the last 5 years. It appears that the company entrusted with delivering this highly sensitive and very personal information to the intended recipients “mistakenly” stored the information in a warehouse instead! Just how such a “mistake” can happen and (more to the point) then continue to happen has not as yet been addressed. Understandably the focus so far has been identifying the information and getting it to the correct location.
In actual fact the real amount of patient information undelivered was 708,000 items, it is understood that of that 200,000 items were not deemed relevant as they related to temporary change of address. The rest (500,000 items) is described as highly sensitive and confidential correspondence between hospitals and GP’s including test results and treatment plans. It is apparently one of the biggest losses of sensitive material in the history of the NHS.
The NHS has once again, and in its usual manner, launched a “quiet” enquiry into how many patients are/were actually affected. It has to be said that this all came to light in March 2016. Just how the NHS has managed to keep it out of the public domain for almost 12 months is unclear. Whatever happened to honesty and transparency?
It is understood that of the 500,000 items some 2,500 cases have required further investigation into whether any lasting harm has occurred as a result of the “loss” of the information. Included within the find were results of blood & urine tests, biopsy results (taken when screening for cancers,) information relating to treatment given following diagnosis in an A&E department, summaries of care received whilst in hospital and in some cases information related to child protection issues.
The NHS has assembled a team of administrators in Leeds to clear up the mess created by the NHS Shared Business Services who “mislaid” the documents. The company in question is partly owned by the Department of Health.
The Guardian newspaper which brought this information into the public domain this week has said that the lost information has now been returned to some 7,700 GP practices and has assessed how many potential incidents have occurred at each practice. Some practices sadly are faced with a few dozen cases where there is potentially a chance of negligence as a result of the missing papers. So far this blunder has cost the NHS in the region of £2.2million. This is the amount paid to GPs for all the returned correspondence to be cross checked against information already in their possession relating to each person.
The British Medical Association “BMA” has said that it takes this incident very seriously, saying that “it is something that should never have happened and it is directly as a result of the NHS trying to cut costs by hiring a private company to undertake work which hasn’t been done properly.”
The Shadow Health Secretary has said that not only has patient safety been put seriously at risk by staggering incompetence but that this news will be heart breaking for the families involved. It would appear that a statement made by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt last July failed to reveal the full extent of the warehouse find. In retrospect his comments made at that time have now been described as being “perfunctory, complacent and evasive”. This is despite the fact that following the patient safety scandal in Mid Staffordshire Jeremy Hunt spoke about transparency and openness.