Medical notes outsourced – threatening patients’ lives says Prentis

Thabitha Khumalo receiving huge support from UNISON Conference after bringing fraternal greetings from Zimbabwe
Thabitha Khumalo receiving huge support from UNISON Conference after bringing fraternal greetings from Zimbabwe

Thousands of patients’ lives may be put at risk because a growing number of hospitals are sending medical notes abroad for typing, UNISON is insisting.

The giant public sector union warns: ‘Private companies are aggressively targeting hospitals with financial deficits, promising huge cost savings, if they outsource their medical typing to countries such as India, South Africa and the Philippines.’

It adds that transcribers in these countries ‘are paid to transcribe NHS doctors’ dictations, but do not have the benefit of supporting medical notes, letters and prescriptions against which to check the accuracy of their transcriptions’.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said the outsourcing was a ‘very dangerous practice’.

He warned: ‘Lives are being put at risk by hospitals desperate to save money.

‘Look what happened to hospital cleaning when it was privatised, a 50 per cent increase in infections.

‘Trusts are being wooed by companies promising free trials and pilots and huge financial savings if they allow medical typing to go abroad. The government needs to rethink this off-the-wall idea.’

UNISON has already accumulated significant anecdotal evidence of potentially life-threatening mistakes made by overseas transcribers, including:

l confusing ‘hypertension’ (high blood pressure) with ‘hypotension’ (low blood pressure);

l confusing ‘A septic’ (infected) with ‘aseptic’ (not infected);

l mixing up ‘15mg’ and ‘50mg’ drug dosages.

Prentis added: ‘The consequences of typing errors are too frightening to contemplate, they can be a matter of life and death.

‘Medical secretaries in the NHS work to 99.8 per cent accuracy targets and once “phased out” their knowledge and expertise will be lost forever.’

UNISON also points out that medical secretaries carry out a number of other duties for consultants including booking appointments, timetable follow-up calls, liaising with patients and a range of other administrative tasks.

One medical secretary from Whittington Hospital, told the UNISON conference in Bournemouth on Wednesday that there were serious issues around patient confidentiality.

The Whittington delegate said: ‘Several patients have asked for their notes not to be sent to South Africa for transcribing, but I know for a fact that they have.’

East and North Herts NHS Trust has issued redundancy notices to 160 medical secretaries, asking for 58 volunteers.