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GPs fielding phone calls after 13,000 ‘shielding’ letters sent to wrong address

The Welsh health minister has apologised after 13,000 letters for people considered most vulnerable to coronavirus were sent to the wrong addresses.

BMA Wales said the error has resulted in ‘a surge of phone calls’ to GP practices from concerned patients.

Around 80,000 people in Wales were due to receive correspondence from chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton, informing them that they should stay at home for 12 weeks.

But the Welsh Government said that due to a ‘processing error’ within the NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) ‘some shielding letters were posted to a previous address, where the intended recipient had recently moved’.

All letters have since been reissued to the correct addresses, it added.

A spokesperson said: ‘We provided all local authorities with the correct details from the start of this process, and they have been directly contacting each person involved over the past two weeks. Supermarkets had also received the correct addresses and have been using these to prioritise delivery slots for people shielding.

‘We fully understand the concern this would have caused people and sincerely apologise for the mistake.’

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales today, Vaughan Gething said: ‘I am sorry the error happened. I know that people will be worried about it, but all of those letters have now gone out, so people should receive them in the next day or two.

‘This was all done at remarkable speed, and it’s not the sort of exercise you’d normally undertake… within the space of a week.’

Mr Gething also said: ‘General practitioners all had the correct list.’

However, GPs across the country have been dealing with the consequences.

Dr Phil White, chair of BMA Wales’ GP committee, told Pulse: ‘Whilst we understand that mistakes like this do happen, it has resulted in a surge in phone calls to GP surgeries from concerned patients.

‘A large part of our workload has been receiving calls from those who feel they should receive a letter but haven’t. We need to ensure phone lines are freed up for those patients who really need medical care. We are assured that letters have now gone out to the correct addresses.’

Dr Eamonn Jessup, a GP from North Wales, added: ‘I think the only thing about this particular error is at least the health minister had the decency to apologise for it. The UK Government seems to do everything it can to avoid saying sorry, which is so sad’.

The work to identify patients who need ‘shielding’ has been pushed out at great speed in England as well, with the onus put on GP practices to fact check central lists.

Yesterday, NHS England informed GPs that they must review all patients who have self-identified as being high risk via the Government’s website by next Monday (20 April), after practices are told the names of these patients later this week.

On Thursday (8 April), it set practices a deadline of the end of Easter Monday to have completed reviews of patients flagged as needing shielding.

The deadline for this, and for adding any missed patients to the register, was later extended to 5pm the following day.

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