Safety concern as GPs forced to wait weeks for patient record collection

GPs have reported delays of up to four weeks for patient records to be collected for transfer to other practices under a new primary care support service run by a private provider.

Piles of patient notes awaiting collection (Photo: Dr Irfan Malik)
Piles of patient notes awaiting collection (Photo: Dr Irfan Malik)

GPs say piles of notes bagged up for transfer to other surgeries have not been collected under the service run by primary care support services provider Capita, which won a 10-year contract with the NHS last year.

GPs fear the delays could put safety at risk if notes are not available when patients switch practices, and have also voiced concern over labelling of notes during transfer under the new system.

Capita told GPonline that practices may have experienced delays of 'up to two weeks' during a 'short transition period' while previous courier services were shut down and the new service took effect. But a spokeswoman said that weekly collections had now been put in place, and that practices could safely hand over notes for transfer via the CitySprint courier service employed by Capita.

GP patient records

But the delays have left many GPs angry and concerned. Kent GP Dr Stephanie De Giorgio said: 'Patients need their notes to follow them to new practices in a timely fashion to ensure safe care. This is not happening and puts GPs and their patients in a difficult situation.'

She said problems with the collection of patient records vindicated BMA warnings last year about the potential impact of outsourcing primary care support and cutting the overall cost of the service by £40m a year.

Dr De Giorgio, a co-founder of Resilient GP - an organisation set up to improve primary care systems and help GPs avoid burnout - said a practice posted concerns about delays on the Resilient GP website on Thursday.

Within hours, 'at least 20 practices' had voiced similar concerns. Some reported it had been 'at least four weeks since collection' of patient notes and 'big piles of notes' were waiting to go. GPs including Dr De Giorgio highlighted their concerns on Twitter.

Dr De Giorgio pointed out: 'Obviously patients will then not be able to see a GP at the new surgery properly unless [they have] electronic sharing.' Different IT systems in GP practices mean this is not always possible, she said.

Delayed collection

Her own practice is among those affected: 'We have waited three weeks now for notes to be collected and are waiting for many more to be delivered. It used to be a twice weekly service.'

Dr De Giorgio said the problems must be addressed 'as a matter of utmost urgency'.

Nottingham GP Dr Irfan Malik said his practice had been waiting 'at least four weeks' for records to be collected. 'We have about 60 notes. And about two have been delivered to us in that four-week period.

'I hope this can be resolved soon. If we aren’t receiving notes quickly, it can affect patient safety. That is why we are moaning.'

A spokeswoman for Capita said that changes it was implementing to the system for transferring patient records aimed to deliver a 'a safer, better service'.

She told GPonline: 'As part of the changes to primary care support that NHS England has asked us to deliver, we are moving from a medical records service that varied hugely across the country to a standardised process for every practice.

'There was an initial transition period where collection times were temporarily paused to allow us to transfer the many individual courier services to our new national single supplier. We have now introduced a secure, weekly collection service for medical records for all GP practices across England.'

Safer service

GPs have expressed concerns over how effectively records are labelled for transfer under the new system. Capita is piloting a tracking system in West Yorkshire, which will see all records marked with bar codes that are scanned when drivers arrive to collect them.

But this system is yet to be rolled out. The Practice Index website reported that some practices have refused to hand over records because they are concerned that records are not well enough labelled.

The Capita spokeswoman said: 'A key feature of the national service will ensure that medical records will be fully tracked until they reach their destination. We are currently piloting this approach in one region and when this has concluded we will begin to launch across the country.

'We are continuing to work closely with NHS England and proactively engaging key stakeholders, including the GPC and LMCs, so we can continue to refine and improve the service going forward.'

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey, whose Leeds practice is in the area piloting Capita's record collection system, said practices had fed back concerns about the process.

He said records had been taking longer to get around the system than they had in the past, and that practices had expressed concern about timing and frequency of collection and delivery of notes.

The Capita spokeswoman said that any practice that has experienced delays with collection of records should contact its helpline for advice. However, Dr Vautrey said that some practices had experienced problems using the helpline, including long waits on the phone.

A spokeswoman for NHS England said: 'NHS England has asked Capita to deliver a range of changes to primary care support services which are designed to make services more efficient, more reliable and ultimately better for GP practices.

'This will include improvements for how medical records are moved between GP practices to ensure that records remain safe and can be fully tracked and traced. We will continue to work closely with Capita to review ongoing progress and  investigate feedback from users as this new approach is implemented.'

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