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18.10.17

Data scandal worsens as NHS loses further 162,000 key patient files

Revelations that the NHS lost more than half a million patient files have been deepened with the reveal of a further 162,000 pieces of paperwork also missing.

The information was discovered as part of a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) inquiry into the reported handling of patient data by NHS Share Business Services (SBS).

The 162,000 extra files are made up of 12,000 papers that had not previously been processed, and a further 150,000 which had mistakenly been sent to the firm Capita.

The SBS – a joint venture between the Department of Health and French IT company Sopra Steria – was initially accused of losing 708,000 files which contained sensitive data, including blood tests, diagnoses and screening test for diseases – a scandal about which the National Audit Office (NAO) wrote for the latest edition of NHE.

The data could contain information which is hugely important to patient’s health, and officials have been analysing the losses to try and ensure nobody comes to harm from the blunder.

Of the original missing files, more than 5,500 cases were sent for clinical review, with 4,565 completed so far – although bosses have stressed that no one has yet been identified as being harmed by the losses.

At the inquiry, NHS England CEO Simon Stevens played down the revelations. He claimed that the increase was not due to more files being lost, but rather the NHS having more knowledge of the situation.

“The situation has not changed. We have become very rigorous in making sure that we are lifting every stone and that is what we have identified,” Stevens explained.

Questioned at the inquiry by committee boss Meg Hillier MP, NHS officials had to explain why the issue had gone unnoticed despite being officially flagged up back in 2014. At the time, large amounts of correspondence between SBS departments was undelivered.

Karen Wheeler, national director of NHS England’s former transformation and corporate operations, said she was not aware of the issue until March 2016 and that the group looked at other contracts and processes but did not identify any other major issues.

After this week’s further revelations, an NHS England spokesperson commented: “These new cases have come to light as a result of our determination to leave no stone unturned, and all these documents will be returned to GPs for clinical review where needed within the next 10 weeks.

“People should be reassured that despite reviewing over 97% of the records that SBS failed to process not a single case of patient harm has been identified.”

But Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, a PAC member, said until NHS England has “sifted through” each file it can’t be sure whether or not there is a “serious case out there where someone is dying because the notes haven’t been transferred.” In response, Stevens promised to “wrap up” the situation by the end of March.

Before being officially revealed to services, Hillier spoke of the issues being brought up in the House of Commons in 2011 by former health minister Ben Bradshaw. However, John Neilson, chief executive of SBS, disputed the claims, instead suggesting that Bradshaw’s comments dealt with a slightly different problem.

Following the reveal of the initial data loss, NHS England launched its own inquiry – which cost millions – in order to assess the impact of the problem.

In response to this week’s further discovery, the organisation is continuing with investigations in the hope that patients will not suffer any harm from the loss of files.

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