A new report published today shed light on a further 162,000 backlog of clinical correspondence items that still need to be assessed by GPs.
The Public Accounts Committee’s report deplored the ‘lack of grip’ NHS England has shown on handling this problem, after the Committee had been looking into mishandled correspondence for the past three years.
The Committee said they were ‘deeply unimpressed’ with the way NHS England and the Department of Health handled clinical correspondence, because they failed to monitor the work of the NHS Shared Business Service (SBS), which was in charge of redirecting up to 700,000 items of mail a year.
Alluding to the news of an extra backlog to assess, the report stated: ‘It would have been more helpful if this information had been supplied in time to allow Members to consider it. The Committee will return to this subject once it has further information.’
In February 2017, NHS England paid 7,330 GP practices a total of £2.5m for the overtime GPs would have invested in assessing the ‘potential for patient harm in terms of mishandled correspondence’.
However, the NHS England stopped investigating because it failed to hear back from around 2,000 GPs that were supposed to review 102,000 items of correspondence.
The report said: ‘NHS England has written to GPs who have not reviewed clinical correspondence about their patients to inform them that it is assuming that they have completed their review and have not identified any patient harm.’
Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said that the NHS still needs to obtain assurance from every GP in charge of reviewing correspondence that they have completed this task and to point out cases in which patients may have suffered the consequences of delayed correspondence.
She said: ‘While we recognise the potential impact on GPs’ workload, this is work GPs have already been paid to carry out. It is vital to the well-being and peace of mind of patients that all necessary steps are taken—and quickly.’
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England was deeply concerned to be informed by the SBS company in March 2016 about their backlog of unprocessed correspondence. A team of doctors and other NHS staff was quickly set up to sort through the issues. Fortunately there is no evidence that any patient has been harmed, and the whole matter is on track to be resolved by March 2018.
‘Even then, taxpayers could be landed with the bill for further costs arising from fines or negligence claims.’
An NHS SBS spokesperson said: ‘We have expressed our regret for this situation and co-operated fully with the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee in their investigations. NHS SBS no longer provides this service.’