NHS IT, Records and Data


NHS England ‘far too slow’ to address misdirected clinical correspondence issue

The NHS has wasted almost £2.5m on reviewing the handling of misdirected clinical correspondence, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said.

According to the committee’s report, NHS England was “far too slow” to treat the issue seriously and take action, resulting in the problem worsening and a delay in remedial action for patients.

In March 2016, NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), one of the organisations responsible for redirecting correspondence about patients that was sent to the wrong GP up until 31 March 2015, informed NHS England and the then Department of Health that it had discovered a backlog of around 435,000 unprocessed items of clinical correspondence.

The PAC took evident on the problem and issued report in November 2017.

During the course of that inquiry, NHS England informed the committee that it had discovered a new backlog of 162,000 items of clinical correspondence that had not been redirected.

NHS England had stated that a small proportion of GPs had been sending clinical correspondence and other material to Capita, instead of following guidance. In May 2015, NHS England introduced new arrangements allowing GPs to return misdirected correspondence to the sender.

In its March 2018 evidence session, the PAC examined how NHS England had allowed another backlog of unprocessed clinical correspondence to accumulate.

Over the two incidents, one million pieces of clinical correspondence had not been handled appropriately, and NHS England is still assessing almost 2,000 cases to determine whether there has been harm to patients.

So far, two incidents have been identified where expert consultant review has concluded that patient harm cannot be ruled out.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said: “NHS England was slow to tackle this incident with the regrettable consequence that many patients are still in the dark about potentially critical correspondence.”

She added: “There is a grim irony in the fact that a mass breakdown in communication should then be compounded by poor communication between NHS England and GPs.”

Hillier argued that it should not be difficult to deliver basic administrative efficiency, and called the “systemic nature of this incident” a “big concern,” lamenting that money has been spent “cleaning up the mess” rather than on patients.

“NHS England must move to resolve this definitively and keep us abreast of the progress being made,” she concluded.

Responding to the report, BMA GP committee chair, Dr. Richard Vautrey, said: “Amid the longstanding chaos caused by the outsourcing of GP support services, as clearly exposed by the recent National Audit Office report, this further publication is another damning indictment of NHS England’s inability to deliver basic administrative efficiency in back-office systems.”

He added: “Given the ongoing confusion and lack of effective communication, it is regrettable yet understandable that some practices may have, in good faith, sent misdirected correspondence on to PCSE. This would have been the arrangement before NHS England tried to cut costs by commissioning PCSE services to Capita two years ago.”

He concluded that the report underlines the need for the NHS England to get to grips with a problem that he said has been disrupting general practice for years and introduce an effective system that guarantees safe and efficient care for patients.

Top image: pinkomelet


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