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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.