Hot off the press this morning is the news that more than 1,700 patients are in potential danger after what is being described as a ‘colossal’, ‘disastrous’ and ‘monumental’ error. [1] Over 700,000 pieces of medical files have been lost including patient records, cancer test results, child protection notes, diagnostic test results, treatment plans and patient drug prescription changes. [2]

“The handling and transfer of clinical correspondence is a crucial part of how general practice operates, and it’s essential that important information reaches GPs as soon as possible so that they can provide the best possible care to their patients.” – Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association.

The above issue came to light in February after the Guardian newspaper reported it and since then the NAO has reviewed what exactly happened. After reading the latest NAO report, an NHS SBS spokesman said: ‘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.

The following areas are some examples of what is being done to rectify the errors.

  • In order to help rectify the issue NHS England is investigating the situation and sorting out the patients into high priority and low priority cases.
  • A team that includes clinical experts has been set up to manage the incident.
  • GP’s have reviewed over 360,000 documents however they have not completed all examinations yet.
  • NAO is conducting a deeper investigation into the root cause of the issue and who may have been affected.

While the above points represent what is being done it is clear that, that is not enough. A more radical approach needs to be adopted.  2020 represents the culmination of the Five Year Forward View where the aim of the NHS is to be paperless or at the very least paper light. In order to prevent incidents like this from happening again the NHS needs to be fully behind changing the way in which patient records are held. Millions of paper based patient records piling up in multiple warehouses is going to be deemed unacceptable when such records include things as information as important as medication changes and results for oncology tests.

It has been postulated that high ranking NHS managers knew about this area of concern and waited years to report the problem, with some going as far as to bury/destroy records.[3]

If this is the case, then nothing short of a fully paperless system is required. In a fully paperless system people will easily be able to find the information they need preventing such information from being buried and lost thus making it harder for events like this one to happen again. Furthermore, electronically held information can be made fully auditable (for access details) and can be set to never delete – in some cases just marked hidden or archived – to prevent any such data loss.

Furthermore, a nationwide data cleanse is required to improve data accuracy. Patient care should be the primary focus of the NHS, and accurate records that are not duplicated are vital to providing safe, high quality levels of care. By cleansing data and making it paperless, the quality of care provided will increase, as will the availability of clinicians for greater patent facetime, and situations like this will arise far less frequently and will be far less damaging.

Prevention is better than cure

At SD, we are fully aligned with the mantra ‘Prevention > Cure’ this applies not only when it comes to dealing with the treatment of patients but also to disaster/crisis management. We believe an effective prevention program is better than an effective disaster/crisis management program.  In this example preventing issues surrounding data and patient records is far better than a successful clean-up operation after a major problem has occurred. In our team, we have specialists who can help with issues surrounding IT solutions and internal data.

With one of our main areas of service being Health Care, we are extremely concerned with the news that has broken today. We welcome you to get in contact with us if you have any questions regarding this issue. We also invite everyone to get involved in the conversation online and on social media using the hashtags #GetSDInvolved #SDPatientCare #DataSecuritySD

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40408458

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jun/27/hundreds-of-patients-potentially-harmed-by-undelivered-nhs-mail-says-nao

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40408458

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jun/27/hundreds-of-patients-potentially-harmed-by-undelivered-nhs-mail-says-nao

[3] https://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/home/finance-and-practice-life-news/almost-2000-patients-may-have-been-harmed-by-sbs-failure-to-redirect-clinical-correspondence/20034679.article