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Thousands of letters ‘unissued’ to east London NHS trust patients

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The first error discovered at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) – which runs Queen’s Hospital in Romford and King George Hospital in Goodmayes – saw its waiting list for routine radiology tests double to 15,500 in August.

In a second serious incident, declared in February this year, the trust realised nearly 80,000 letters had sat “unissued” to patients between January 2019 and November 2022.

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At a trust board meeting last week, chief executive Matthew Trainer said the radiology incident was a “really big problem” but that the trust is now hitting NHS targets for diagnostic tests.

An investigation into the radiology incident has confirmed that 35 patients have either had “significant or possibly significant clinical findings” while the impact of the unissued letters remains under “review”.

The trust describes the radiology error as a “discrepancy” caused by a “scripting issue” in the computer system that handles radiology referrals.

Although the radiology incident has previously been mentioned in public papers released by BHRUT, last week was the first time it admitted that nearly 80,000 letters were “typed but not sent”.

A spokesperson for the trust told the Local Democracy Reporting Service an investigation into the system used to send letters is ongoing but that the incident was “a result of human error”.

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The spokesperson added: “This incident is a further reminder of our need to ensure all our clinical and IT systems are working properly and reporting accurately, especially as we prepare to introduce electronic paper records at our Trust.

“We will be the last acute hospital trust in London to introduce an electronic records system, and this is due to be in place from 2025.”

On May 10, BHRUT’s programme director for planned care, Fiona Wheeler, told a Redbridge scrutiny meeting that the trust previously took a “sticking plaster” approach of buying smaller IT systems for different areas of care and administration.

She added that medical staff feel the lack of trust-wide electronic patient records is “cumbersome and difficult to navigate”.

READ MORE: BHRUT ‘optimistic’ it will improve as wait time targets missed

Last month, the trust celebrated cutting the backlog of patients waiting over 18 months for treatment to zero by running a series of extra clinics and diagnostic sessions including several “bones weeks”.

However, the overall waiting list for treatment sits at about 66,000 – more than 1,000 of whom have been waiting for more than a year.

This large waiting list is thought to add to BHRUT’s ranking as the worst-performing trust in England at hitting the national four-hour waiting time target for A&Es.

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In another serious incident declared last May, a robotic computer programme automatically deleted 1,800 patients from the hospital’s waiting list.

When the error was discovered an internal investigation revealed that the trust had failed to replace the person in charge of monitoring the robot after the previous staff member “moved on to another role”.

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