The revelations were branded a “disgrace” by one senior GP.
In total at least 700,000 items of GP correspondence were put into storage by NHS Shared Business Services, according to the National Audit Office report.
It found that the organisation inherited a backlog of 8,000 items in 2011 – but its staff regarded the problem as “just filing” while the missing mail accumulated.
Auditors found that senior managers discovered the extent of the problem in January 2014 – but did not tell NHS England until more than two years later. Even then the Department of Health decided not to inform Parliament – while NHS England’s internal auditor was denied access to the material.
The inquiry found 1,788 cases of potential harm to patients – although no instance of actual harm has yet been established.
Today Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association GP committee deputy chair, called on the government to ensure that the disastrous impact on patient care is not allowed to happen again after a damning report by the National Audit Office (NAO).
The NAO highlights problems that have occurred with NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), which is contracted to run some back office operations in the NHS.
Dr Vautrey said: “The failings of this private company identified in the NAO report 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. Patients will rightly be angry that this private company, contracted by the NHS, has failed practices and patients to such an extent.”
He added that with the funding pressure that the NHS is facing, the organisation could face spending £6 million to clear up the mess from SBS’ failures.
“We now need Ministers to ensure that this disastrous situation never occurs again and that patients have a system that they can depend on,” added Dr Vautrey.