News article published on: 28th June 2017
It was recently reported that a company in charge of re-directing mail to patients in North-West London was responsible for a blunder which led to hundreds of thousands of documents being mistakenly locked away in a warehouse instead of being delivered to patients. The responsible company, NHS Shared Business Services is a private company which is jointly owned by the Department of Health. An inquiry was launched earlier this year by the National Audit Office (NAO) after the blunder was revealed in the national press. It is reported that more than 1,700 NHS patients may have been harmed as a result.
Between 2011 and 2016 over 700,000 patient documents were stored in the warehouse when they should have been delivered to patients. The company is understood to have been aware of the error and the risk it posed to patients as early as 2014 and it has been alleged that they failed to report this to NHS England for two further years. Such a delay could have led to serious adverse consequences for patients.
The documents which remained stored in the warehouse included treatment plans, details of changed drug prescriptions, child protection notes and diagnostic test results. Based on an initial review of these documents, the NAO estimated that there were 1,788 cases of potential harm to patients. However approximately one third of the documents have yet to be reviewed and there could be many other cases of potential harm to patients which come to light in future.
To date the cost of analysing the information contained in the documents has reached £6.6 million. The costs are expected to rise further given that investigating cases of potential harm to patients requires review by multidisciplinary clinicians, access to patients and discussion with GPs. The NHS bodies involved in this blunder are also at risk of being fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office and will potentially have to pay compensation to patients who have been harmed, thus further increasing the financial consequences of the oversight.
Whilst NHS Shared Business Services no longer provides the mail re-direction service to the NHS, this blunder highlights concerns that the Department of Health lacks sufficient oversight of the practices of private companies to whom public health services have been outsourced. The Department owns just under 50% of the company however it is understood that it had not taken up two out of its three seats on the board of NHS Shared Business Services.
A spokesman for the company confirmed that they had cooperated fully with the NAO’s investigation and stressed that to date no evidence of patient harm had been found. However given that the investigation into potential cases of harm is yet to conclude there is a chance that this blunder may have caused serious and significant harm to some patients, which could have been avoided.
At Osbornes Solicitors LLP we care about how you are treated both by medical professionals at hospital and also under the care of your local GP or other treating doctor(s). If you think that the medical care you have received fell below the standards expected of a reasonably competent medical professional, then please do not hesitate to contact Stephanie Prior, Head of Clinical Negligence, on 020 7681 8671, or Nicola Hall, Solicitor, on 020 7681 8701.