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Patient harm probe launched as GPs miss out on nearly 30,000 clinical letters

The NHS has launched a safety enquiry after 28,563 outpatient letters failed to be delivered to GPs, potentially putting thousands of people at risk.

Between June 2019 and January 2020, thousands of letters containing summaries of patient consultations at Barnet Hospital and Chase Farm Hospital, in North London, did not reach GPs.

Over 22,144 patients living in the London boroughs of Camden, Islington, Haringey, Barnet and Enfield are affected.

A ‘clinical harm review’ has been launched by the NHS after finding out about the error.

The technical glitch occurred when Cerner, the IT company responsible for the dispatch of electronic letters, undertook an update of the system. Caroline Clarke, the chief executive of the Royal Free London Group, which includes both Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals, was informed of the issue on 7 February, in a memo subsequently leaked to the Guardian.

A Royal Free London Group spokesperson said: ‘A Cerner IT error, which affected Royal Free London (RFL) systems, has resulted in delays to some RFL out-patient consultation summary letters being sent out. The IT fault, caused by a customised Cerner update, has now been fixed. Letters affected by the error are being clinically reviewed as a precaution.’

They added: ‘We have not identified any cases of patient harm but will continue to monitor the situation as a precaution.’

A Cerner spokesperson said: ‘Due to the unique design of a custom script deployed within Royal Free London (RFL) NHS Foundation Trust’s electronic health record, a number of letters containing a summary of patient consultations were not sent to GPs, patients and other parties over a period of time.

‘No other Cerner clients are affected, as it has been caused by the logic used in a specific custom script only implemented at RFL.’

In August last year, GPs in Scotland were sent almost 400 incorrect discharge letters – wrongly stating that patients had conditions such as cancer or endometriosis – due to a computer glitch.

This followed the blunder by NHS Shared Business Services, dating back to 2011, which saw over 700,000 pieces of lost correspondence, and the Capita mail misdirection failure of 2016, which affected over 400,000 letters.