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Investigation into Royal Free Hospital’s missing patient letters

More than 28,000 letters did not get through

14 February, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Royal Free Hospital

AN investigation has been launched after a computer “coding” bungle led to thousands of hospital patient letters not being sent out.

The Royal Free said it had taken six months to discover the problem that stopped 28,563 letters concerning 22,144 patients being delivered between June 27 and January 21. Hospitals routinely write to doctors’ surgeries and patients as part of procedures to record what happened at an appointment.

NHS chiefs have blamed the “technical error” on updates to a digital system run by the US tech-giant, Cerner. The Royal Free said in a bulletin sent out to senior partners – leaked to the New Journal – that it had set up a inquiry panel to assess the severity of the “serious incident” and whether patients had come to “clinical harm”.

It said: “We have been working closely with Cerner, and internally with senior clinical leads, to identify the root cause and scale of the incident.”

Cerner UK is part of the Cerner Corporation, one of the biggest US health tech companies. Among Camden patients affected by the bungle were some who had been sent for planned surgery at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield.

Camden GP patients have been forced into a 25-mile round trip for outpatient appointments as part of NHS cutbacks.

Camden Healthwatch, the patient watchdog, last week published a report saying many were being sent on “long, complex and expensive journeys” and that the cost of taxis – around £30 each way – was a “major concern”.

The Royal Free said it had commissioned the Healthwatch report to find out more about why Camden patients objected to being sent to Enfield for appointments that used to be in Pond Street, Hampstead.

A Royal Free statement on the “Cerner IT error” said: “The IT fault, caused by a customised Cerner update, has now been fixed. Letters affected by the error are being clinically reviewed as a precaution. “We have not identified any cases of patient harm but will continue to monitor the situation as a precaution.”

Cerner and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust were recently nominated for a joint industry award for a new digital system that has significantly reduced the number of appointments patients attend.

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