NHS sent COVID-19 letters to families of deceased patients in error

NHS has recently issued a public apology for erroneously sending nearly 11,000 letters to the families of deceased patients, informing them that the deceased are vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.

This error happened when the NHS was processing records of patients who received radical radiotherapy treatment for lung cancer. A bunch of these patients were those who died prior to 2018. To mitigate the error, NHS has temporarily suspended the national mailing process and has confirmed that the issue stands resolved.

NHS has so far identified a group of 900,000 individuals who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. They are also processing data from general practitioners and hospital specialists to identify more vulnerable patients and notify them of the same. This is expected to at least 600,000 more individuals.

According to the NHS, “to compile the initial list of nearly one million vulnerable patients it was necessary to combine routine NHS data from multiple sources. In this extremely complex process, our priority was to ensure that we got vital information to vulnerable patients as quickly as possible.”

“Our aim has been to contact the most vulnerable people as soon as possible, with the risk that we would also include a small number of less vulnerable individuals. Most importantly, we are striving to avoid overlooking any individual who is at genuine risk, which is why we have put in place additional measures to identify as many of the most vulnerable people as we can, working with general practitioners and hospital specialists.

“In this particular case, we made a mistake by inadvertently writing to a group of patients who had died. This shouldn’t have happened, and we therefore wish to apologise for any distress or upset that we have caused. We will continue to identify and rectify any issues that may arise as this process continues,” it added. NHS said letters were sent to 10,924 people in error, and these recipients formed 1.2% of the 900,000 people initially identified and contacted.

Rush to identify people vulnerable to COVID-19 infection resulted in the inadvertent error

NHS also issued a separate statement on its website to directly address the recipients of the letters that were sent in error. The statement read:

"Although we are unable to contact you personally, we would like to say how sorry we are for any distress that may have been caused by the letter you have received. This error happened in a single batch of the records we were processing, affecting patients who received radical radiotherapy for lung cancer, and who died prior to 2018.

We are working hard and at unprecedented speed to get information out to patients as quickly as possible, because we know how important it is that people have accurate and timely information during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Our focus is on helping the NHS to support patients and staff in this difficult and challenging time, however in this case we made a mistake, and for that we are genuinely sorry."

In order to identify people across the UK who could be vulnerabile to COVID-19 infection, NHS is creating lists of people with various ailments and is advising them to take certain precautions or to get themselves checked at nearby hospitals and clinics.

The list includes people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer, people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma, people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer, people with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, and severe COPD, and other ailments.

“Our aim has been to contact the most vulnerable people as soon as possible, with the risk that we would also include a small number of less vulnerable individuals. Most importantly, we are striving to avoid overlooking any individual who is at genuine risk, which is why we have put in place additional measures to identify as many of the most vulnerable people as we can, working with general practitioners and hospital specialists,” NHS said.

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