‘LET’S be under no illusions this is a catastrophic breach of data protection,’ Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for health told Parliament yesterday afternoon.
He was asking an urgent question on the developing scandal surrounding 700,000 patient letters from hospitals to GPs between 2015 and 2016 that were not delivered. Private company, NHS Shared Business Services was responsible for ensuring that GPs received the urgent letters.
However, the hundreds of thousands of GP letters were found to have been dumped in a warehouse by the private company.
Ashworth continued: ‘Over half a million patients’ data, including blood test results, cancer screening results, biopsy results, even correspondence relating to cases of child protection, all undelivered, they were languishing in a warehouse on the secretary of state’s watch, it is an absolute scandal.’
He asked: ‘Is it not better that rather than this relentless pursuit of privatisation, that we bring services back in house?’ He went on to say: ‘Time and time again, this health secretary promises us transparency, well today he stands accused of a cover-up. The Department of Health knew about this in March 2016 so why did it take this self-proclaimed champion of transparency until the last day before the House rose last Summer to issue a 138- word statement to Parliament?
‘That statement said quote “just some correspondence had not reached the intended recipients.”
‘When he made that statement was he therefore aware that the amount was over 700,000 letters.
‘How many patients were harmed because their GP did not receive information about their ongoing treatment? We now understand that Capita now have the contract to delivering these services.’
He added: ‘Two months into 2017 and the health secretary lurches from one crisis to another. Hospitals overcrowded, waiting lists out of control, he can’t deliver the investment that our NHS needs. He can’t deliver a social care solution, he can’t deliver patient safety and now he can’t even deliver the post.’
Tory Health Secretary Hunt claimed that almost all the letters had been assessed by GPs to see if patient safety had been compromised. He claimed that out of the 700,000, ‘only’ two and a half thousand letters had a potential risk of harm and needed further investigation. As well as patient safety,’ Hunt said, ‘transparency both for the public and this House has been my priority,’ to howls from MPs.
Dr Louise Irvine, a south London GP and member of Health Campaigns Together, commenting on the issue, said: ‘As a GP I know just how important it is to receive timely communications from hospitals about my patients.
‘The risk to patients of their GP not having this information is enormous and in some cases, such as delayed diagnosis or failure to give appropriate treatment, could be life threatening.’