PAC censures NHS and DoH after ‘staggering mishandling of data’

Written by Sam Trendall on 2 December 2017 in News
News

Commons committee concludes that NHS England is not doing enough to determine whether patients were harmed by correspondence backlog

The Public Accounts Committee has strongly criticised the NHS and the Department of Health for their failure to address a “staggering mishandling of sensitive data”.

A newly published PAC report examines the case of some 709,000 items of NHS correspondence which were mishandled by NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), a company partially owned by the DoH. Up until 19 months ago, the firm was under contract to redirect to GPs in south-west and north-east London and the East Midlands about 700,000 letters each year that had initially been sent to the wrong address.

In March 2016, NHS SBS revealed to the DoH and NHS England “that it had found a backlog of correspondence which had not been redirected, some of which dated back several years”, PAC said.

“A total of 709,000 items of correspondence were eventually found to have been mishandled,” the committee added. “NHS SBS missed many opportunities over at least five years to identify and rectify the problem.”

So far, about 1,000 cases “of potential harm” to the patients to whom the correspondence relates have been identified by GP reviews, according to PAC. Reviews of potential harm have still not been undertaken for a total of 102,000 letters that have now, finally, be sent to the correct GP.


Related content


The PAC report claimed that, in the absence of the results of a review, “NHS England has assumed without evidence that [those] 102,000 patients have suffered no harm as a result of the delay”. 

Another 162,000 items of correspondence are still in yet to be redirected, a process which is scheduled to conclude by the end of the year. The committee recommends that – for all items – NHS England confirms with GPs by the end of March 2018 whether the mishandling caused any patient harm.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said: "We will never know the scale of emotional distress caused to patients by the shoddy handling of NHS clinical mail—a failure in service delivery which stretches back years and has still to run its course. It beggars belief that those tasked with tackling a rapidly expanding backlog of correspondence did not recognise its real-world significance.”

She added: “NHS England eventually stepped in but, even now, huge volumes of mail are still to be properly assessed and we are far from confident health officials are on top of the issues. The hunt for further correspondence, and therefore potential cases of harm to patients, continues.”

An NHS SBS spokesperson said: “We have expressed our regret for this situation and co-operated fully with the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee in their investigations. NHS SBS no longer provides this service.”

An NHS England spokesperson added: “NHS England was deeply concerned to be informed by the SBS company in March 2016 about their backlog of unprocessed correspondence. A team of doctors and other NHS staff was quickly set up to sort through the issues. Fortunately, there is no evidence that any patient has been harmed, and the whole matter is on track to be resolved by March."

When news of the mishandling of mail first emerged earlier this year, a number of MPs and onlookers were prompted to call for greater digitisation of health records and correspondence.

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

Share this page

Tags

Categories

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

Full-fibre primary schools and the Mancunian skills gap – 10 tech announcements you may have missed in the Budget
31 October 2018

Although big-ticket technology announcements were largely absent from the chancellor’s speech, the Budget contained a number of initiatives and investments in digital and data

Why the NHS needs to ‘take the lead’ on sharing data with the private sector
11 December 2018

A study from Reform finds a haphazard patchwork of data-sharing being led at a local level. The think tank’s director of research Eleonora Harwich tells PublicTechnology why a national...

Related Sponsored Articles

How the Internet of Things is revolutionising business
26 November 2018

BT thinks The Internet of Things is about to undergo a revolution. Over the past two decades, we've seen IoT tech evolve from a possibility, to a novelty, to an established tool that plays a vital...

Quantum cryptography and the future of security
19 November 2018

Quantum computers will soon make some of our strongest encryption useless. And that's where quantum cryptography comes in

Make security integral to your business
5 November 2018

BT knows that digital security isn't just about technology. It's about the partnerships, intelligence and expertise you need to stay one step ahead in the security race.