NHS Shared Business Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th February 2017.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health 12:00 am, 27th February 2017

On 24 March 2016, I was informed of a serious incident involving a large backlog of unprocessed NHS patient correspondence by the company contracted to deliver it to general practitioners’ surgeries, NHS Shared Business ServicesSBS. The backlog arose from the primary care services GP mail redirection service that SBS was contracted to run between 2011 and 2016. However, in three areas of England—the east midlands, north-east London and the south-west of England—this did not happen, affecting 708,000 items of correspondence. None of the documents was lost and all were kept in secure storage, but my immediate concern was that patient safety might have been compromised by the delay in forwarding correspondence, so a rapid process was started to identify whether anyone had been put at risk. The Department of Health and NHS England immediately established an incident team led by Jill Matthews, who heads the NHS England primary care support services team.

All the documentation has now been sent on to the relevant GP surgery, where it is possible to do so, following an initial clinical assessment of where any patient risk might lie. Some 200,000 pieces were temporary residence forms, and a further 500,000 pieces were assessed as low risk. A first triage identified a further 2,500 items that had potential risk of harm and needed further investigation, but follow-up by local GPs has already identified nearly 2,000 of those as having “no patient harm”. The remainder are still being assessed, but so far no patient harm has been identified.

As well as patient safety, transparency with both the public and this House has been my priority. I was advised by officials not to make the issue public last March until an assessment of the risks to patient safety had been completed and all relevant GP surgeries informed. I accepted that advice, for the very simple reason that publicising the issue could have meant GP surgeries being inundated with inquiries from worried patients, which would have prevented them from doing the most important work—namely, investigating the named patients who were potentially at risk.

For the same reasons, and in good faith, a proactive statement about what had happened was again not recommended by my Department in July. However, on balance I decided it was important for the House to know what had happened before we broke for recess, so I did not follow that advice and placed a written statement before the House on 21 July. Since then, the Public Accounts Committee has been kept regularly informed, most recently being updated by my permanent secretary only last Friday. The Information Commissioner was updated in August, and the National Audit Office is currently reviewing the response. I committed in July 2016 to keeping the House updated once the investigations were complete and more was known, and will continue to do so.