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NHS data error may have caused harm to patients

View profile for Gemma Crompton
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Man dies from sepsis hours after attending his GP surgery

The Guardian have today reported on a significant data protection error which has potentially harmed hundreds of thousands of patients.

It has been reported that more than 500,000 individual pieces of patient correspondence were not delivered from 2011 and 2016 and were being mistakenly stored in a warehouse. The documents include blood test results, biopsy and cancer screening results and correspondence between GPs and hospitals. This means that correspondence routinely sent outlining treatment received at hospitals, diagnoses reached and changes in medication has remained undelivered for a number of years.

NHS England has launched an inquiry to assess how many patients have been affected. The private company responsible for the error, NHS Shared Business Services, no longer holds the contract with the NHS as their internal postal service.

The significance of this error is yet to be seen, however, here at Stephensons we investigate cases whereby patients are harmed as a result of delay in diagnosis of cancer, for example. In many cancer cases, an earlier diagnosis can make a huge difference to the type of treatment a patient can receive and, often, their life expectancy. If correspondence between hospitals and GPs, which includes cancer screening results, was not delivered at all, then this data blunder may have been the cause of a  number of cases of delayed cancer diagnoses with potentially devastating results for individuals involved. 

An NHS England spokesperson has reassured patients that where possible the correspondence has been delivered to the correct place, however, given that some of it is six years old, the consequences of this data error may well be far-reaching.

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