GPs face backlog of over 100,000 patient letters after data warehouse error

GP practices across England will be forced to process potentially hundreds of thousands of patient letters and documents kept by mistake in a warehouse by a former provider of primary care support services, the BMA has said.

A handful of individual practices could be dumped with more than 500 letters and documents to process, GP leaders say. Around 1,000 practices will need to sort through between 100 to 500 items, and a further 1,000 face up to 100 items to process.

In total, affected practices look likely to be forced to work through at least 100,000 - and potentially more than 500,000 - letters and documents.

The GPC and NHS England have agreed a framework to pay practices for the additional workload they face, with a deal offering a fixed payment of £50 for processing less than 20 documents, £100 for 20 to 50 documents, and £50 for each batch of up to 10 items for any practice with more than 50 documents in total to process.

GP workload

The BMA has said that GPC leaders were informed in April 2016 that NHS Shared Business Services (SBS) - which provided primary care support services in parts of England until late 2015 - had identified 'a warehouse of patient-related information that they should have transferred to practices for processing, but had failed to do so'.

Documents in the warehouse were reviewed and triaged by a team of GPs hired by NHS England, and any deemed to carry an ongoing risk of harm to patients were transferred to practices over the summer.

The thousands of documents still to be transferred to practices are those deemed low-risk by the triage team. Most are expected to be 'DNAs, temporary resident forms or other items with little clinical information', but the BMA has warned practices will still need to assess all documents returned to them for potential risk.

Potential risk

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline: 'Most practices will not have been in a SBS area so are unlikely to have many letters or documents to deal with as it will only impact patients who have moved in to their area from a part of the country that where practices were connected to the SBS service.

'However some practices will have large numbers of items to process, with potentially 1,000 having between 50-99 items to deal with and another 1,000 having between 100-500 to deal with. It's possible a very small number of practices may have over 500 items to deal with which will clearly be a major issue for them and their patients.'

Amid ongoing concerns with the current primary care support service provided by private company Capita, an update posted on the BMA website says that the data backlog that occurred under SBS is 'a further example of how failures from service providers commissioned by NHS England are causing havoc on the ground for practices'.

Capita is not involved in distributing the backlog of documents from the SBS warehouse, but the BMA has highlighted problems with its primary care support service, warning that delayed record transfers have put patients at risk. Last month a government minister said that the company should consider compensating GP practices for problems with primary care support.

A Capita spokeswoman said last month that the company had been brought in by NHS England 'to both streamline delivery of GP support services and make significant cost savings across what was a highly localised service with unstandardised, generally unmeasured and in some cases, uncompliant processes'.

The firm has apologised for the 'varied level of service experienced by some service users', and says that records are now being moved faster than under the previous system.

A spokeswoman for NHS England said: 'Correspondence relating to an issue highlighted by NHS SBS is now being delivered, wherever possible, back to the correct GP so that it can be placed in the patient’s medical records.

'This incident occurred because some correspondence forwarded to NHS SBS was not re-directed or forwarded by them to GP surgeries or linked to the medical record when the sender sent correspondence to the wrong GP or the patient changed practice. SBS has expressed regret for this situation.'

Photo: Steffan Hill

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