It was reported in the Guardian last week that between 2011 and 2016 the NHS lost more than half a million pieces of confidential medical correspondence, including blood tests and cancer biopsy results, between GP’s and hospitals. This ranks as one of the biggest losses of sensitive patient information in the NHS’s history.
Incredibly, the mislaid documents were stored in a warehouse by a private company called NHS Shared Business Services which acted as an internal postal service for the NHS until last year. The actual amount of documents found was 708,000, however 200,000 of which were not deemed to be clinically relevant.
NHS England has apparently assembled a 50 strong team who have “quietly” launched an inquiry to discover the impact this will have upon patients who may have suffered missed diagnoses as a result of this as well as conducting a review of patients who have died since 2011 to gauge whether any of the deaths could be attributed to this.
The Guardian revealed that the NHS has finally returned the mislaid records to 7,700 GP surgeries across the country. The British Medical Association has warned that some patients might have taken extra drugs unnecessarily or had the diagnosis of their illness delayed because of the blunder.
The Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathon Ashworth, said: “This is an absolute scandal. For a company partly owned by the Department of Health and a private company to fail to deliver half a million NHS letters, many of which contain information critical to patient care, is astonishing.
“Patient safety will have been put seriously at risk as a result of this staggering incompetence. The news is heartbreaking for the families involved and it will be scarcely believable for these hospitals and GPs who are doing their best to deliver services despite the neglect of the government.”
Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “This is a staggering loss of personal and private data, this colossal loss of vital material that may have been absolutely crucial to a patient’s treatment. I worry that while all this correspondence, including test results, has gathered dust, patients had been put at risk. People could have died as a result of this.”
David Hawkins, of Verisona Law said : “This is a shocking breakdown in the system which could potentially lead to major harm being caused to affected patients, for example for missed or late diagnoses or treatment being started late or not at all. If you think you have been affected by this issue, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to discuss whether it may be possible to bring a medical negligence claim”.