Private IT firm 'loses' thousands of patient letters meant for GPs

NHS launches investigation after Cerner update leads to letters from hospitals to GPs being lost

A software update led to GP letters not being sent out

Health campaigners have described news that an IT firm lost thousands of letters to GPs from hospital trusts as ‘yet another example of outsourcing harming patients, costing more money, and placing lives in danger’.

Members of campaign group, Doctors for the NHS (DFNHS), spoke out after the health service launched an inquiry into reports that Cerner was supposed to send over 28,000 letters to GPs about treatment their patients were getting at several London hospitals, but failed to do so.

The NHS is now looking into whether patients could have been harmed by the oversight.

This nonsensical obsession with high-tech ‘fixes’ is fast proving to be far from the money-saving, slick service it was promised to be: dystopian danger to the vulnerable seems ever more likely

GP letters were traditionally sent out by consultants’ medical secretaries – who had extensive local knowledge and could be contacted directly.

But, increasingly, this type of ‘administrative’ work is being outsourced to private companies, often located remotely from the trust and with staff who have little to no personal contact with the trust consultants or GPs, says DFNHS.

Spokesman, Alan Taman, told BBH: “The NHS is increasingly compelled to outsource back-office functions like this, traditionally the remit of the medical secretary.

“But, by outsourcing, supposedly to save money, mistakes like this one are going to be made by commercial companies whose principal remit is to make a profit.

“They will not have such a good local ‘feel’ for the patients, GPs or consultants.

“Are errors like this not only more likely, but more likely to be missed? And at what cost?

“Proving, yet again, the cardinal principle - that if you introduce market norms into a public healthcare system, corruption and unfairness are bound to follow.

“This nonsensical obsession with high-tech ‘fixes’ is fast proving to be far from the money-saving, slick service it was promised to be: dystopian danger to the vulnerable seems ever more likely.”

The technical glitch was said to have occurred when Cerner undertook an update of its system.

By outsourcing, supposedly to save money, mistakes like this one are going to be made by commercial companies whose principal remit is to make a profit

And Caroline Clarke, the chief executive of the Royal Free London Group, which includes both Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals, was informed of the issue on 7 February in a memo subsequently leaked to the Guardian newspaper.

A Royal Free London Group spokesperson said in a statement: “A Cerner IT error, which affected Royal Free London (RFL) systems, has resulted in delays to some RFL outpatient consultation summary letters being sent out.

“The IT fault, caused by a customised Cerner update, has now been fixed. Letters affected by the error are being clinically reviewed as a precaution.”

They added: “We have not identified any cases of patient harm, but will continue to monitor the situation as a precaution.”

And Cerner has since said only the RFL was affected.

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