Damning report reveals private firm mislaid hundreds of thousands of patient letters

National Audit Office slams NHS Shared Business Services for failing to report missing data including blood test and scan results

A private firm lost more than 700,000 items of NHS medical correspondence, potentially delaying treatment for thousands of patients, a scathing report has revealed.

The National Audit Office (NAO) probe found that at least 1,788 patients suffered potential harm as a result of the scandal, which occurred over a five-year period. However, the actual figure could be much higher as GPs and hospitals are still identifying all those affected.

The losses included the results of blood tests and scans informing doctors that patients had cancer and other serious medical conditions.

NHS England was deeply concerned to be belatedly informed by SBS in March 2016 about its backlog of unprocessed correspondence

The private firm responsible – NHS Shared Business Services – is a joint venture between the Department of Health and Sopra Steria. Its mission is to deliver £1billion savings back to the NHS by 2020.

But it is alleged the company first became aware that data was going missing as far back as 2011, but only alerted officials last year.

And, as a result, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has been widely criticised for failing to pick up on the problems earlier and for not informing the public.

The NAO report also reveals how workers from NHS Shared Business Services had dumped vital medical correspondence in the bin believing it was no longer important.

Up to 35 sacks of correspondence were destroyed because employees assumed it was out-of-date and irrelevant.

We regret this situation and have co-operated fully with the National Audit Office in its investigation

The fallout from the mistake is expected to cost the NHS £6.6m – mostly through employing thousands of extra staff to contact affected patients.

Commenting on the report, a spokesman for NHS England said: “NHS England was deeply concerned to be belatedly informed by SBS in March 2016 about its backlog of unprocessed correspondence.

“We immediately set up a team, including clinical experts, to manage the incident, and all relevant correspondence has now been sent back to GPs for review.

“None of the patients whose cases have been reviewed to date have been harmed by the delay in correspondence.”

An NHS SBS spokesman added: ‘This report highlights a number of failings in the mail redirection service provided to NHS England.

“We regret this situation and have co-operated fully with the National Audit Office in its investigation.

“All of the correspondence backlog has now been delivered to GP surgeries for filing and NHS England has so far found no evidence of patient harm.”

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