PAC slams ‘shoddy’ handling of patient data

6 Dec 17

MPs have criticised the “shoddy” performance of a company contracted by NHS England to handle sensitive patient correspondence.

The Public Accounts Committee added that it was “far from confident” that health officials had solved the problem, after it found that more than 700,000 separate pieces of correspondence had been mishandled by NHS Shared Business Services Limited (NHS SBS).

NHS SBS is part owned by the Department of Health, and until a year and a half ago was responsible for making sure that any misdirected clinical correspondence was sent on to the relevant GPs in the East Midlands, South West and North East of England.

However in March 2016 the company found a backlog of 709,000 items of mail which had not been dealt with, the committee reported on 29 November.

It called these failures “staggering”.

NHS England is still assessing almost 2,000 patients, to see whether the delays resulted in them suffering any harm.

NHS SBS “badly failed the patients and general practitioners for whom it was supposed to be redirecting correspondence”, MPs said in their report. They also criticised both NHS England and the Department of Health, which  “failed in their oversight” of the contractor.

NHS England received additional criticism for providing the committee with late information.

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.

“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.”

Hillier recommended that checks were now conducted with GPs, in case records showed whether affected patients have come to any harm.

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.”

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