Bungling hospital fails to send 24 THOUSAND letters due to IT error

Bungling hospital trust fails to send 24 THOUSAND letters due to IT error – meaning patients may have missed out on crucial tests and results for 5 years 

  • Newcastle Hospitals said documents such as test results may not have been sent
  • Error occurred when letters were put in a virtual folder ‘few staff knew existed’

A hospital trust has today blamed an IT error for failing to send out 24,000 letters from senior doctors to patients and their GPs.

Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust confirmed documents such as discharge summaries, requests for further care and crucial scan, X-ray and blood test results may not have been sent out in the last five years.

Hospital insiders said the error happened when letters requiring sign-off from a senior doctor were put into an online folder ‘few staff knew existed.’

The trust, which runs the two main hospitals in Newcastle, apologised ‘for any anxiety or inconvenience this may cause’. 

It is reviewing the documents that were not sent out but stressed they accounted for fewer than 0.3 per cent of all patient contacts.

The Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne is one of the hospitals run by Newcastle Hospital trust (PA)

The trust realised earlier this month that documents, including clinic letters and internal documents, in its electronic patient records had not been sent to GPs, following talks with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

In a letter sent to staff about the IT problem, seen by the BBC, states that letters written by some staff members in the electronic patient record system have to be signed off by a second medic.

They must change their status to ‘signing clinician’ before the letter will send. If they fail to do so, the document goes to a separate folder in the system — where it will remain unless it is correctly signed off.

Chief operating officer Martin Wilson said: ‘We have thoroughly investigated these matters and would like to reassure our patients that we are taking immediate steps to address the issue. We sincerely apologise for any anxiety or inconvenience this may cause.’

He added: ‘Every single patient contact is very important to us and we are working to understand if there has been any impact to ongoing care and treatment.

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‘We are currently reviewing 24,000 documents from our electronic records. This includes both correspondence and internal documents and accounts for less than 0.3 per cent of all our patient contacts.’

Mr Wilson said the review will be completed over the next two months and the hospital will contact patients and GPs ‘if any concerns are identified’. 

‘We are taking this issue very seriously and are working quickly to put things right,’ he added.

The trust has stressed that patients do not need to do anything as anyone affected will be contacted directly.

In a separate letter seen by the BBC, Dr George Rae, a GP and chairman of the North East BMA Council, said there would be ‘an incredible amount of information’ within the letters.

‘If you didn’t get the letters, you wouldn’t have the results of scans and X-rays or blood tests,’ he wrote.

Dr Rae said GPs would be ‘absolutely unaware’ of changes to their patient’s medication or treatment if they had gone to hospital and been given a significant diagnosis. 

Sarah Dronsfield, CQC’s interim director of operations for the North Network, said: ‘We inspected several core services at Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Trust in June and July 2023 as part of our routine inspection activity.

‘Following that inspection, in September 2023, CQC received concerns from trust staff about risks to patient safety caused by delays in sending out patient correspondence.

‘We took immediate action to request further detail from the trust to understand the extent to which people may be at risk, and evidence of the steps being taken to review the impact on patients, ensure people are safe and mitigate any risk of avoidable delays in treatment going forward.

‘The trust has submitted an action plan and volunteered to provide weekly updates on its progress against that plan. We have received assurance to address our immediate concerns.

‘However, the trust remains subject to close monitoring, and we can inspect at any time should our monitoring reveal heightened concerns or the need for further action.

‘We will report on the full findings from our latest inspection and any areas where the trust has been required to make improvements as soon as we are able to.’

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