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Independents' Day

NHS Digital apologises for sending nearly 11,000 shielding letters to dead people

NHS Digital has apologised after attempting to contact nearly 11,000 dead people with advice to shield from the coronavirus (Covid-19).

The error came as part of the initial bid by the NHS to directly contact patients who should be shielding because they are most at risk from complications if they contract coronavirus.

The letter went out to 10,924 people in error, or 1.2% of the 900,000 people that were initially identified and contacted, NHS Digital said on 24 March.

The issue specifically affected a group of patients who had been treated with radiotherapy for lung cancer, NHS Digital said. It went on to suspend the national mailing process while the error was resolved.

The note of apology said: 'In this particular case, we made a mistake by inadvertently writing to a group of patients who had died. This shouldn’t have happened, and we therefore wish to apologise for any distress or upset that we have caused.

'We will continue to identify and rectify any issues that may arise as this process continues.'

It comes as NHS England apologised to GPs for its handling of the process of identifying and contacting shielding patients last week.

Primary care director Dr Nikita Kanani admitted the process has been 'really frustrating' for GPs, who were given several tight deadlines for fact checking and amending lists of patients.

The process is not yet complete, over a month after patients were supposed to be told to stay indoors and not leave the house at all for 12 weeks, with GPs working to a deadline of 28 April to verify lists of self-identified patients.

Readers' comments (8)

  • In my 20 yrs with the NHS I've realised the NHS has become the NAS - National Apologetic Service with no true intent of reforming.

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  • Such big numbers and who is looking at them? Nobody.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Let’s be sensible to analyse this fiasco .
    (1)One could argue that as many as possible were to be included in the original list . The cock-up( no better word to use) arose when NHSE gave as little time as possible , in panic mode, to GP to check the list as well as adding more patients GPs would suggest shielding .
    (2)Criteria for absolute shielding were clear but that for the increased risks of Covid-19 complications( over 70s , pregnancy , chronic diseases etc ) were chaotic . Again , no time was given for GPs to do that job . The whole drama got ‘one size fits all’ written all over it . NHSE’s traditional top-down model of doing business with us has utterly failed .
    (3)Now , you (NHSE) admitted that even the original shielding list was dogged by humiliating mistakes . Think about the media response when GPs occasionally sent a letter for smear test to a patient who had already died ?

    Never before in NHS , we have seen a stake-holding government authority had to apologise to the public so many times in such short space of time .
    As I always write : incompetence is worse than malevolence. Problem is ,the way NHSE treated CCGs and inevitably PCNs in recent time was malevolent and this debacle( in addition to PPE supply) is sheer incompetence.
    Sorry , Nikita , cannot put this in any nicer way . And I am pessimistic that your organisation will genuinely learnt any lesion from this Covid-19 crisis with soul-searching and introspection.

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  • Vinci Ho

    learnt any lesson

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  • What a shocking disgrace. First and last rule of mail shots is to crosscheck for RIPs. Occasionally letters will cross in the post, but this is a wholesale cluster job. It’s pathetic, disrespectful, unintelligent and could have been avoided. All the usual platitudes will be rolled out, lessons learned, insincere apologies etc but the people at the top (those who commissioned and dreamed up this stupid process, not the poor kid who sticks the stamps on) should be held accountable.

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  • Had you given clear, and unchanging, guidance to primary care, and left us to do the searches, we would have had this sorted 4 weeks ago. Instead you meddled and dithered. You set up a ridiculously complex, crude, inefficient and impersonal system which has caused chaos.
    I imagine after all this you will be promoted further and awarded an MBE or some such. This is how it goes.
    Morally, you and your team should resign when this is over.
    You have caused confusion and distress to patients, and wasted hours and hours of precious GP time with the fiasco which has been the shielding exercise.

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  • local people who work locally and know their population well can easily respond to such emergencies if allowed the leeway and funding to do so. perhaps this pandemic will teach those powers on high that more can be acheived with less rigid overstructure and more emphasis on smaller groups managing their own populations. i think this was called GPs in a practice partnership model and it worked well for many years until it was decimated by underfunding, lack of staff and over management by distant authorities. when the workers are telling the manager how to do the job thats needed its time to change the manager.

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  • managers, my ar*e - couldn't run the proverbial farting contest in a bean factory ! sack most of them - off down the dole office. put the vast amount of cash saved into the frontline.

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