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28 June 2017 | Comment | Article by Ruth Powell

At least 1,700 patients may have been harmed due to NHS mailing blunder

A new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has discovered that over 700,000 items of mail was mislaid and unprocessed due to a colossal NHS storage error. It was found that hundreds of thousands of letters sent between GPs and hospitals never arrived at their destination.

Letters were stored in a warehouse by NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) which is co-owned by the Department of Health and a private company. The problem first came to light in 2011 and has steadily been getting worse since this time.

It is understood that these letters and documents included medical records, treatment plans, cervical cancer tests, cancer diagnoses, blood and urine tests and changes to medication.

The NAO have reported that more than 1,700 patients could have been harmed by the undelivered and unprocessed mail.

The report found that the scandal has so far cost £6.6 million pounds. It was also reported that the Department of Health did not advise the public about the issue for several months.

An NHS England spokesman stated: “NHS England was deeply concerned to be belatedly informed by SBS in March 2016 about its backlog of unprocessed correspondence. We immediately set up a team, including clinical experts, to manage the incident, and all relevant correspondence has now been sent back to GPs for review. None of the patients whose cases have been reviewed to date have been harmed by the delay in correspondence.”

It has been reported that a third of GPs have not yet responded on whether unprocessed mail has potentially harmed their patients’ health. It is believed that 175,000 letters are still being reviewed by GPs to assess whether harm has been caused.

Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association GP committee deputy chair said: “These failings are completely unacceptable and it is a disgrace that this service failed so badly that patient care was being compromised. The handling and transfer of clinical correspondence is a crucial part of how general practice operates and it’s essential that important information reaches GPs as soon as possible so that they can provide the best possible care to their patients.

“The public should have confidence that their records are up-to-date and that communications related to their treatment are being speedily dealt with…’

Mr Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, has also acknowledged that the failings are “totally unacceptable” and “incompetent”.

Failure to process documents correctly has been the basis of some claims that the Medical Negligence team at Hugh James has successfully pursued on behalf of clients. If you have experienced a negative impact on your health as a result of delayed, misfiled or erroneous medical documents then get in touch with the Medical Negligence team to find out if you are eligible to claim.

Author bio

Ruth Powell


Ruth is a Partner and Head of our Clinical Negligence Department. She has exclusively practised in clinical negligence since qualifying in 1995 and has a wealth of experience in complex and high value clinical negligence claims.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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