Hospital trust apologises after finding 24,000 letters may not have been sent
Newcastle Hospitals is looking at whether the failure has had any impact on the care and treatment of patients.
A hospital trust says it taking “immediate steps” to work out whether a failure to send more than 20,000 letters to GPs has had “any impact to ongoing care and treatment”.
Newcastle Hospitals has apologised “for any anxiety or inconvenience this may cause” as it confirmed documents including discharge summaries and clinic letters may not have been sent out over the last five years.
The trust, which runs the two main hospitals in Newcastle, said it is currently reviewing 24,000 documents but stressed this accounted for less than 0.3% of all patient contacts.
The error was first reported by the BBC, which said letters got lost in a new computer system when items requiring sign-off from a senior doctor were put in a folder unknown to many staff.
Chief operating officer Martin Wilson said: “In mid-September following correspondence from the Care Quality Commission, the trust identified a number of documents in our electronic patient record which may not have been sent to GPs.
“These documents included discharge summaries and clinic letters, as well as internal documents from the last five years.
“We have thoroughly investigated these matters and would like to reassure our patients that we are taking immediate steps to address the issue.
“We sincerely apologise for any anxiety or inconvenience this may cause.”
Mr Wilson said: “Every single patient contact is very important to us and we are working to understand if there has been any impact to ongoing care and treatment.
“We are currently reviewing 24,000 documents from our electronic records. This includes both correspondence and internal documents and accounts for less than 0.3% of all our patient contacts.”
He said: “This review is already underway and will be completed as quickly as possible over the next two months. If any concerns are identified, we will inform patients and their GPs directly. We are taking this issue very seriously and are working quickly to put things right.”
The trust has stressed that patients do not need to do anything as anyone affected will be contacted directly.
Sarah Dronsfield, CQC’s interim director of operations for the North Network, said: “We inspected several core services at Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Trust in June and July 2023 as part of our routine inspection activity.
“Following that inspection, in September 2023, CQC received concerns from trust staff about risks to patient safety caused by delays in sending out patient correspondence.
“We took immediate action to request further detail from the trust to understand the extent to which people may be at risk, and evidence of the steps being taken to review the impact on patients, ensure people are safe and mitigate any risk of avoidable delays in treatment going forward.
“The trust has submitted an action plan and volunteered to provide weekly updates on its progress against that plan. We have received assurance to address our immediate concerns.
“However, the trust remains subject to close monitoring, and we can inspect at any time should our monitoring reveal heightened concerns or the need for further action.
“We will report on the full findings from our latest inspection and any areas where the trust has been required to make improvements as soon as we are able to.”
Gateshead GP and chairman of the north-east region local medical committee Paul Evans told BBC Radio 5Live his surgery was bracing for a “substantial” number of queries from patients and a heavy workload as the contents of the letters begin to arrive.
Dr Evans said he was “not entirely certain how worried I should be because, at the moment, whilst we know the approximate scale of the problem, we don’t know whether there’s a theme to these letters, how old they are or which particular departments.
“And, we don’t know details of the individual patients that will have been affected.”
He said: “Over the last few years plenty of patients have told me about appointments they’ve had at the hospital or attendances at A&E that I never knew anything about.”
Dr Evans said he would urge people not to panic as he believed the hospital would have contacted patients by phone with important information like cancer diagnoses if they had no reply to letters which were never sent.