Thousands of patients potentially at risk because of mail blunder

More than 709,000 patient medical notes have been left to build-up in a warehouse and it is feared that more than 1,700 patients may have suffered harm as a result.

The records include cancer test results and child protection notes.

It is thought that many more people may have been harmed as only two-thirds of the 709,000 records have been checked so far.

The company, NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), which is part-owned by the Department of Health, was meant to forward documents that had been incorrectly addressed or needed re-routing because the patient had moved to a different GP surgery. Instead, between 2011 and 2016, some records were left to pile-up in the warehouse.

Duty of candour                                                     

Andrew Taylor, Clinical Negligence specialist and a partner at Birchall Blackburn Law, says: “The safe, accurate and timely transfer of patient records between medical professionals is a vital part of a patient’s treatment. If important information about a patient is delayed or doesn’t reach the GP, consultant or patient, it could be a matter of life or death.

“If serious harm could result from an omission or error in handling patient records then health professionals have a duty of candour to tell the patient what has happened and the potential fallout. The patient should then act quickly to find out about their rights because they will need help if the mistake leads to serious injury.”

Patient records

NHS England is overseeing investigations into the 1,788 cases of potential harm identified by GPs who have reviewed the missing notes. And another 200,000 records will be investigated to determine if there was potential harm to patients. The investigations are due to be completed by the end of 2017.

SBS was employed in the East Midlands, South West and north-east London regions to redirect mail for the health service. The company was aware of the risks as early as January 2014. There was no plan to deal with the backlog and SBS did not tell NHS England for a further two years. NHS England and the Department of Health were eventually told in March 2016 but the public were not told until February 2017 when the Guardian ran a story.

A report by the National Audit Office found the cost of dealing with the incident is likely to be in the region of at least £6.6m.

What do I do if I believe missing or delayed medical records have caused injury?

The hospitals, GP surgeries or medical organisations owe a duty of care to a patient, and the safe, secure and timely communication of medical records comes within that duty of care. It is an important part of a patient’s treatment.

Unless everyone involved in patient management and treatment has access to the information they require, delays and mistakes are inevitable. If you suspect that missing or delayed medical records may have caused or materially contributed to a worsening of a pre-existing condition or additional serious injury then it is important to seek professional advice from an experienced clinical negligence solicitor.

You should enquire about your rights as soon as possible. The law sets a strict time limit within which court proceedings must be started. Many solicitors, including our Birchall Blackburn Law clinical negligence team, are willing to provide free initial advice.