NHS England has written to GP practices across England admitting the mistake by Primary Care Support England (PCSE), the service outsourced to Capita in 2015 as part of a cost-saving drive, according to the BMA.
The revelation that 160,000 patient records were archived rather than following patients when they moved between practices comes just days after GPonline reported that delays in updating the GP performers list - managed by PCSE - had left practices out of pocket by tens of thousands of pounds.
GP leaders called for fresh assurances that no patient had been harmed by the mistake, and warned that patients 'cannot be allowed to be put at risk because of the incompetence of one supplier'.
Capita was stripped of a contract to run NHS cervical screening earlier this year after it failed to send either invitations or reminders about screening to thousands of women, and after delays to thousands of letters about screening results.
A GPonline poll earlier this year suggested that half of GP partners were experiencing problems with Capita's PCSE service, and MPs warned last year that the decision to outsource primary care support to the outsourcing company had been 'a shambles'.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'Capita has presided over a litany of failings since it took charge of backroom support for GP services almost four years ago, from issues with payments to practices, to the very serious error that came to light last year, when tens of thousands of patients were left without important correspondence about cervical screening.
'160,000 patients’ records wrongly archived rather than forwarded to practices is just the latest major error and while it is shocking we cannot say we are surprised. Capita has consistently proved itself unfit to hold this contract. NHS England has at last listened to the BMA and now plans to bring cervical smear administration back-in house, and with this latest blunder they now must urgently do the same for all of these services.'
Dr Vautrey warned that NHS England's assurances that no patients had come to harm were 'based on a sample from just one area of the country' and called for further checks.
He said: 'Patients cannot be allowed to be put at risk because of the incompetence of one supplier, and NHS England must offer support to anyone affected.
'Even if no patient has been harmed, we find ourselves having the same conversations about a new Capita failing, and it is completely unacceptable that this is being allowed to happen again. Ultimately, it will be GP practices, already under-pressure from heavy workloads, to bear the brunt of sorting out the mess left behind by Capita, and NHS England must ensure surgeries also receive the support and resources needed to do so.'
A Capita spokesperson said: 'A number of paper medical records were not redirected by PCSE when patients moved to new GP practices. There is no indication that any harm has occurred to any patients as a result of the paper records delay.
'Patients’ electronic records have not been affected. We are working to deliver these physical records as quickly as possible and have taken steps ensure this does not happen again. We apologise to any patients and GP practices affected.'
An NHS England spokesperson said: 'There is no evidence to suggest that any patient has come to any harm as a result of this issue, and Capita is now delivering any delayed patient records to the correct GP practices as quickly as possible, with the majority of correspondence returned.'