Loss of 500,000 patient letters and test results appalling breach of trust by NHS

1st March 2017 Clinical Negligence

The NHS' often shocking inability to manage basic processes appropriately was laid bare again yesterday when it was revealed hundreds of patients may have suffered harm after 500,000 test results and letters intended for GP surgeries were mislaid.

The documents, which included cancer, blood and biopsy test results were stored in a warehouse rather than delivered to GP surgeries as they ought to have been. An investigation is now underway to determine if the data loss led to any patients dying or their health being damaged.

The scale and severity of this blunder, exposed by the Guardian, makes it unlikely that all the affected patients escaped harm although health secretary Jeremy Hunt claims there is currently no evidence that patient safety has been affected. Time will tell but in our experience as medical negligence solicitors, when cancer test results go astray at best the patient will suffer increased anxiety and distress and at worst they could lose valuable time due to a delay in diagnosis.

Yet more bad NHS management

It's extremely concerning and yet another example of bad management of basic elements of NHS care. We are representing a family affected by this fiasco and although it did not have a direct impact on the patient's health it has slowed the case down by several months because the necessary documentation was mislaid. Fortunately we managed to work around this with help from the GP surgery but ultimately it could have meant the family's opportunity to pursue a claim and access justice was severely curtailed.

As most of us can attest there is some wonderful care being provided by the NHS and some wonderful staff who work incredibly hard. However the poor management of patient information, services and hospitals negates this, chips away at the public's confidence in the NHS and can seriously compromise patient safety.

Until the NHS can get the basics right the risk to patient safety will always be higher than it ought to be. Keeping their vital information safe is the very least that patients should be able to expect and this mishandling is an appalling breach of trust. It is vital that immediate action is taken to prevent a blunder of this magnitude from ever happening again.


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Eddie Jones is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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