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NHS chiefs pay out more than £2.4m over confidential patient letter blunder

NHS bosses have paid out more than £2.4 million to fix a blunder where some 708,000 confidential patient letters went undelivered, new figures show.

Thousands of test results and cancer screening letters sent between GPs and hospitals were mistakenly stored in a warehouse for up to five years by private company NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), rather than being redirected when the patient changed GP or moved house.

Payments to GPs to review the lost letters have now exceeded £2.4 million, according to figures revealed through parliamentary questions from shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth.

Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said the ultimate bill could be higher as the final liability payments for GPs were still under discussion.

Mr Ashworth called on the Government to apologise for the "staggering" waste of time and money caused by the blunder, which has triggered five separate investigations.

More than 200 high priority cases are still under investigation over patient safety concerns.

Mr Ashworth told the Press Association: "It is totally unreasonable that the taxpayer is now having to fork out £2.44m in compensation payments to GPs to clear up this mess.

"The Government need to make clear how much public money was paid in the first place to NHS SBS for these deliveries which never happened and what action is being take to try and recover those costs.

"The sheer waste of valuable time by hospital staff who wrote these letters is staggering and the Government owes them an apology."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs last month that he had been alerted to the error in March 2016 but he was advised not to inform the public in case GPs could not investigate the most urgent cases due to a barrage of calls from worried patients.

In a written response, Ms Blackwood said: "Payments made to GP practices, to the end of February 2017 for this work now total £2,442,750, for which final liability remains subject to discussion."

She went on: " There has been no loss of correspondence and, at this point, there has been no confirmed case of a patient being harmed as a result of this incident.

"Work continues to conduct the necessary assessments by registered GPs and undertake further clinical reviews, where required.

"As, to date, no harm has been identified, no compensation has been paid to patients."

SBS, a private firm co-owned by the Department of Health, operated a mail redirection service in the East Midlands, the South West and north-east London from 2011 until last year.

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