Sunday, February 28News For London

Jeremy Hunt summoned to Commons on misplacement of NHS patient data

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is being questioned to reveal if he was aware of the misplacement of sensitive patient information

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has been summoned to the House of Commons today to be questioned urgently by Jon Ashworth, Shadow Secretary for Health, regarding the loss of more than half a million patient data records of the NHS, according to the Labour Whips. The misplacement of sensitive patient data, reported by the Guardian today morning, was first uncovered by the NHS in March of last year but kept under wraps.

The patient records, mislaid by the contracted private company under NHS Shared Business Services (SBS) to ensure their delivery, were mistakenly stored in a warehouse between 2011-2016, causing one of the biggest data mishaps in NHS’ 69-year history. They included results of blood and urine tests, biopsies and screening tests as well as letters detailing patient visits to the hospital and materials related to cases of child protection.

An NHS England spokesperson told Westminster World: “Some correspondence forwarded to NHS Shared Business Services between 2011-2016 was not re-directed or forwarded by them to GP surgeries or linked to the medical record when the sender sent correspondence to the wrong GP or the patient changed practice. A team including clinical experts has reviewed that old correspondence and it has now all been delivered wherever possible to the correct practice. SBS have expressed regret for this situation.”

They also informed Westminster World that the Guardian expose, which referred to a “loss” of correspondence, was inaccurate as the “documentation dealt with practices where the patient had moved away or was not known”. While the Guardian headline does mention the “loss” of data, the report clarifies the misdirection issue and the steps taken by NHS to redirect misplaced documentation to the intended recipient.

A spokesperson for the British Medical Association told Westminster World, “The greater use of electronic means to transfer information may help in the future, but there will still be a need for a robust administrative system and that needs to be properly funded otherwise the risk of that lessons will not have been learnt from this significant event.”

Phil Booth, Coordinator of medConfidential, highlighted the communication problems within the NHS as one of the main criteria for the mishap. “In cost cutting, a Department of Health commercial subsidiary thought the best way to deliver NHS internal post was to leave it in a warehouse. The NHS has no replacement for organisation to organisation communications – email just doesn’t cut it.”

From the pieces of correspondence affected, the NHS has so far identified about 2,500 which had “some potential risk of harm to patient care and needed further investigation”. The investigations are currently underway for these cases, while assessment of the potential impact on patients is being undertaken by respective GPs. Cases of potential patient harm will be subject to a further clinical review process, an NHS spokesperson said.  NHS England also informed Westminster World that it is reviewing its contract management arrangements with a number of external suppliers to strengthen assurance and reporting processes.

Sub-edited by Ahmed Issawy