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NHS told to set March deadline for GP clean-up of lost correspondence blunder

GP practices should be given a deadline of March 2018 to review patient correspondence lost by NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), MPs have said.

The recommendation to NHS England comes in a scathing Public Accounts Committee report on the scandal that saw 709,000 items of clinical correspondence lost in transit between hospitals and GP practices – including a further 162,000 pieces unveiled just last month.

According to the report, by October 2017 ‘there were still nearly 1,000 cases of potential harm and a similar number of cases are awaiting final clinical review after potential harm had been identified’.

The PAC pins the blame for the blunder on both NHS SBS – which it said was behind ‘staggering’ failures’ – and NHS England, which MPs say ‘failed to appreciate the seriousness of misdirected correspondence’ and ‘still has not put effective measures in place to ensure clinical correspondence is handled properly’.

It goes onto say that it is ‘unacceptable’ that NHS England ‘has given up trying to find out whether any patients have been harmed simply because 2,000 GPs have not confirmed whether they have reviewed clinical correspondence about their patients’. 

GP practices were paid £2.5m to review and assess patient documentation that was lost by NHS SBS but as NHS England issued a reminder to practices to carry out their reviews in August it said 30% of practices had yet to respond to its request for information.

The PAC report says: ‘Despite receiving payment from NHS England, by October 2017 around 2,000 GPs had still not confirmed to NHS England that they had completed their review of 102,000 items of correspondence. NHS England has given up trying to find out from GPs whether patients may have been harmed by the delay.’

It tasks NHS England to ‘obtain positive assurance by 31 March 2018 from every GP reviewing correspondence that they have completed their checks and whether they have identified any cases where patients may have been harmed’.

This comes as NHS England has said it wil only ‘send the additional 162,000 items of misdirected correspondence to the correct GPs by the end of December 2017 for their review’, going by the PAC report.

But PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said: ‘NHS England must obtain positive assurance from every GP reviewing correspondence that they have completed their checks and whether they have identified any cases where patients may have been harmed.

‘While we recognise the potential impact on GPs’ workload, this is work GPs have already been paid to carry out. It is vital to the well-being and peace of mind of patients that all necessary steps are taken – and quickly.’

Ms Hillier added that the PAC would ‘never know the scale of emotional distress caused to patients by the shoddy handling of NHS clinical mail’, and warned that ‘taxpayers could be landed with the bill for further costs arising from fines or negligence claims’ in future.

She said: ‘It beggars belief that those tasked with tackling a rapidly expanding backlog of correspondence did not recognise its real-world significance.’