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Written Statement - Patient Records Incident in NHS England

Vaughan Gething, Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport

The National Audit Office reported on 27 June on their investigation into clinical correspondence handling in NHS England.  I would like to set out how the systems work differently in Wales. In particular, I can confirm that unlike England we do not have any unprocessed records in storage.

In summary, the NAO reported on the NHS England and NHS Shared Business Services in England after their review of approximately 700,000 items of unprocessed correspondence that was apparently stockpiled in a warehouse. This highlighted approximately 1,800 cases of potential harm to patients where records or test results appear to have been incorrectly handled en-route to clinicians.  NHS England is still investigating the cases where potential harm has been identified and expects to complete all review work by December 2017.

The position in England is clearly very worrying for those patients where there is potential harm.  Of the 700,000 unprocessed pieces of correspondence, we understand there are 41 items which relate to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. I have asked NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership to clarify how many of these relate to Wales as a matter of urgency.

I want to be clear that in Wales we operate a different system to that in England for the transfer of patient information between the various parts of our health services. The NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership operates the Health Courier Service on behalf of health boards in Wales. It sorts and delivers thousands of mail items each year. The operational model in Wales does not allow for the storage of mail, on behalf of the health boards.  NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership has confirmed that there are no undelivered mail items being held in Wales. Wales also operates strong digital systems in NHS Wales including the GP2GP service, currently being rolled out, which enables electronic transfer of patient records between GP practices when patients switch practices.

Separately, when patients switch between GP practices in England and Wales, this requires the exchange of records between the two countries. Under normal circumstances, there will be approximately 5,000 in transit between England and Wales. However, since April 2016, when NHS England contracted CAPITA to manage medical record transfers, the number of records in transit has risen by approximately 7,000 to 12,000. We have systems in place to protect patients. Where an urgent record is required, there is an established process for tracking the patient record with the specific English region.  Also, if necessary, the GP practice in Wales is able to contact the GP practice in England which the patient has left, should a clinical discussion be required.   NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership is working closely with CAPITA  which  has stated that the 7,000 extra backlog of records remain in English GP practices or are in safe storage throughout England.

NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership is in weekly contact with CAPITA where concerns about the record transfer delays are highlighted. CAPITA has given assurance it is  committed to reducing the records transfer backlog as quickly as possible. The Chief Medical Officer will also be writing to the NHS England Primary Care Service Transformation Oversight Board outlining concerns about the current records transfer backlog and the need for the records transfer backlog to be reduced as a matter of urgency. I can assure Assembly Members the systems in Wales operate differently to that reported in England and do not involve physical storage of paper records in warehouses. The circumstances raising concern in England do not apply to Wales.