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NHS data loss scandal deepens with further 162,000 files missing

This article was taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/16/nhs-data-loss-scandal-deepens-with-162000-more-files-missing

By:  and  Monday 16 October 2017 

Revelation that further documents are missing was made at inquiry into disappearance of original 702,000 pieces of paperwork

The scandal over the biggest ever loss of NHS medical correspondence has deepened with the revelation that a further 162,000 documents went missing, on top of the 702,000 pieces of paperwork already known to have gone astray.

MPs said they were “dumbstruck” to learn that even more material relating to patients’ health had been mislaid, some of it by NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), the firm co-owned by the government that lost the documents.

The disclosure came at an evidence session of the Commons public accounts committee, which is investigating the disappearance that the Guardian first revealed in February.

Health officials investigating a contractor’s loss of medical correspondence have discovered a further 162,000 missing documents, which could include patient records and cancer tests, parliament’s spending watchdog was told on Monday.

Following an inquiry into the loss of the original 702,000 documents, NHS managers have admitted that two new tranches of missing medical papers have been uncovered and it is not yet known if the patients involved are at risk.

The latest lost documents could include treatment plans, details of changes to what drugs patients should be taking, child protection notes and the results of various kinds of diagnostic tests.

Officials said that in the course of their inquiries, they had identified a further 150,000 medical documents that had been mistakenly sent to the outsourcing firm Capita by GPs; and a further 12,000 missing papers that had had not been processed by SBS.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a Conservative committee member, said: “You tell us the bombshell that whilst on a trawl of local trusts you find another 12,000 and then you found another 150,000 [missing] items.

“Until you have sifted through them, you don’t know if there is a serious case out there where someone is dying because the notes haven’t been transferred. So when are you going to get on top of this situation?”

Sir Simon Stevens, the NHS’s chief executive, replied: “This should be wrapped up by the end of March. End of March is a feasible goal.”

NHS officials told the committee that of the original missing files, they sent 5,562 cases for clinical review. Of those, 4,565 have been completed – 3,624 of which have shown that there was no clinical harm to patients. There are 941 cases still to be cleared, officials said, adding that no one has yet been identified as coming to harm because of the loss.

The National Audit Office found that SBS first recognised in January 2014 that patients may have come to harm as a result of what was at the time a fast-rising backlog of undelivered paperwork.

However, despite staff raising concerns, the firm – which is 49.99% owned by the Department of Health – did not alert the department or NHS England until March last year, 26 months later. SBS was then “obstructive and unhelpful” to NHS England in the inquiry it then instigated, the NAO found.

A review of the health department’s governance arrangements in relation to SBS, undertaken by its own internal auditor, later found it had not taken up two of its three seats on the firm’s board.

NHS officials and SBS apologised for the lost documents, saying that SBS has paid £4.34m for the loss.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, wrapped up the fraught session by saying that the committee would ask the NAO to look again at the loss of documentation.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “These new cases have come to light as a result of our determination to leave no stone unturned and all these documents will be returned to GPs for clinical review where needed within the next 10 weeks.

“People should be reassured that despite reviewing over 97% of the records that SBS failed to process not a single case of patient harm has been identified.”

Labour said the disclosure that even more documents had gone missing than first acknowledged was “astonishing”.

Jonathan Ashworth, its shadow health secretary, said: “Hundreds of thousands of patient letters have been lost, and the secretary of state only admitted it had happened because details were leaked. Now we find even more letters went missing than we were originally told.

“The government’s response has been complacent and evasive. It’s still not clear how much public money has been wasted in this affair or how this private company is going to be held to account. It’s totally unreasonable for Jeremy Hunt to wash his hands of this when more and more details of his department’s failures keep emerging.”

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, demanded that Hunt — who has already been summoned to the Commons twice over the scandal — should urgently appear before MPs to update them on the situation.

“This colossal blunder now turns out to be even worse than previously thought. the safety of thousands of patients has been put at risk due to the incompetence of a single private company and lack of proper oversight. Jeremy Hunt must urgently come before parliament to explain what steps are being taken to ensure this does not happen again.”