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28 June 2017

‘Colossal’ NHS mail blunder puts over 1,700 patients at risk

It has been reported that over 1,700 NHS patients may have been harmed by a ‘colossal’ blunder where thousands of patient records were left to pile up in a warehouse.

Officials claimed that only two thirds of the 700,000 records found has been checked, meaning the number at risk is likely to rise. It is said that amongst the missing documents, were cancer test results and child protection notes.

The National Audit Office stated that there were questions to answer about the handling of the incident. NAO looked into the role of the government and the company responsible for the mix-up, which is part-owned by the Department of Health.

NHS Shared Business Services who are the company responsible, were employed in the East Midlands, South West and North-East London to redirect mail for the health service. The documents that were meant to be passed on had either been incorrectly addressed or needed re-routing as patients had moved to new GP surgeries. Between 2011 and 2016, a backlog of a mammoth 709,000 pieces of correspondence piled up in a NHS SBS warehouse.

The issue came to the surface after the Guardian reported on it. When the National Audit Office reviewed this they found:

  • A label that included “clinical notes” on it had been removed from the room in which the files had been stored

  • A member of staff had raised concerns that records were being destroyed in August 2015

  • The company had became aware of a risk of patients back in January 2014, but senior managers never developed a plan to deal with it or tell the NHS for another two years

  • When NHS England tried to investigate the issue, they said the company had been “obstructive and unhelpful”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it was committed to being transparent over the handling of the issue and was working to make sure it did not happen again.

Individual investigations - overseen by NHS England - are taking place into the 1,788 cases of potential harm identified by GPs who have reviewed the missing notes. As well as that, over 200,000 records still have to be reviewed by GPs to determine if there was a potential for harm to have happened.

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader, has described the situation as a “colossal blunder”. All investigations are expected to be completed by the end of the year.  

One of our solicitors John Lowther first reported on this back in February of this year. Read the story here.