One of the biggest losses of sensitive medical information in the NHS’s 69-year history has been revealed, potentially putting thousands of patients at risk of harm.
In a Guardian exclusive, it was found that the NHS lost more than half a million pieces of confidential medial correspondence, sent between GPs and hospitals from 2011 to 2016.
Blood tests, diagnoses and treatment plans were just some of the ‘lost’ correspondence which failed to reach their recipients. The company charged with getting correspondence to the right recipient, NHS Shared Business Services, instead stored the information in a warehouse. In total, 708,000 pieces of correspondence were undelivered, although 200,000 of these were not medically relevant as they were change of address forms.
According to the Guardian report, NHS England quietly launched an enquiry into how many patients could have been put at risk following this huge data oversight. 2,500 cases have so far required further investigation, with the NHS spending millions to assess the scale of the medical impact. NHS has reportedly, and very quietly, assembled a 50-strong team of administrators to sort the problems out, with Jill Matthews leading the charge. Ms. Matthews is the managing director of the primary-care support services arm of NHS England.
Documents seen by the Guardian have so far revealed that 7,700 GP surgeries have had lost information returned to them, with £2.2m being paid to GPs to examine returned correspondence and cross-check it with other material in patients’ medical records.
“There’s going to be a lot of clearing up to do here. Not only in determining who has been impacted by this catastrophic oversight and exactly how far the problem extends, but it’s also going to raise new questions about why the NHS is still relying on physical data records,” said Egress CEO Tony Pepper.
“Just this month Jeremy Hunt admitted that the original target of a paperless NHS by 2018 was unlikely to be met, but given what we know now, perhaps that needs to be revisited again?
“Physical data is inherently less secure than digital – it’s difficult to trace, goes missing easily and is often open to interference. While digital records have their own set of challenges, with the right foresight and security and compliance mechanisms in place, it’s far less likely to go missing or be subject on this scale to the same issues of human error. We’re yet to discover the full extent of this data loss, but it’s not an overreaction to suggest the difference between going digital or not is a matter of life or death.”
Echoing Mr. Pepper’s ‘life or death’ statement, the British Medical Association has warned that some patients might have taken unnecessary drugs or had diagnoses delayed because of this loss of information.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The department and NHS England have been completely transparent while work has been ongoing to resolve this issue, with patient safety as ever our first priority. In July, the health secretary informed parliament and in September, senior civil servants updated the public accounts committee.”