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GPs miss out on ‘critical’ correspondence for five years due to support service error

GPs have been missing out on correspondence dating back to 2011 due to errors made by NHS Shared Business Services in redirecting and forwarding correspondence sent to the wrong practice by hospitals, the health secretary has announced.

The NHS has said it will write to the affected GPs in the three affected areas of North East London, the East Midlands and South West of England, where the company was contracted to provide primary care support services until April 2016.

It said this would include ’results and communications about treatment steps’.

NHS England confirmed that there would be a ‘small number of cases’ where GPs would have to follow up with patients about their care where correspondence was delayed, with Pulse understanding that potentially up to 100 patients will need action. 

The mail redirection service was commissioned by NHS England to trace patient correspondence which had initially been sent by hospitals to an incorrect, or out-of-date, GP practice.

NHS England told Pulse NHS SBS had launched its internal investigation in January 2016, and notified the DH and NHS England in March, the errors were revealed in a statement released by Jeremy Hunt to Parliament this morning.

In the statement, NHS SBS said: ‘[SBS] has identified an issue whereby some correspondence in the mail redirection service has not reached the intended recipients.’

It adds: ‘We would like to express our regret for this situation, and we are working with NHS England to return all delayed correspondence to GP practices for filing in medical records as quickly as possible.’

A ‘team including clinical experts’ is now working through the backlog to review and resend mail correctly, NHS England said.

But GP leaders warn that the delays could have ‘huge implications’ if a patient has not received follow up medical attention, with hospitals often sending a single letter directing GPs to care for a patient.

Doncaster LMCs medical secretary Dr Dean Eggitt said: ‘We often see a patient who has been seen in outpatients, or even post-acute surgery, they’re discharged with a note for “GP to continue some of the care”.

’That’s the only information we receive on what to do with this patient, whether critical or minor. So if that doesn’t come through we won’t do it.’

He added that these communications were ‘massively patient care critical’ because discharged patients might not always understand they should follow-up with a GP.

A spokesperson for NHS England told Pulse: ‘Early investigations have shown that this issue occurred between 2011 and 2016. Some correspondence forwarded to NHS SBS was not re-directed or forwarded to GP surgeries or linked to the medical record when the sender sent correspondence to the wrong GP or the patient changed practice.

’The correspondence included temporary resident forms, duplicate documents or some results and communications about treatment steps.’

It adds: ‘Relevant GPs are being notified so that in the small number of cases where it may be needed they can take steps to follow up with their patients.

The DH has a particular involvement with NHS SBS as the organisation is a joint venture between the department and private company ‘Sopra Steria’ with a mission to ‘deliver £1bn in savings back to the NHS by 2020’.

NHS England dropped mail redirection from primary care support services nationally in April, with Pulse revealing GPs’ concerns of a ‘clinical risk’ to patients over delayed correspondence once the service was stopped.