Jeremy Hunt attacked by MPs over NHS letters scandal
Jeremy Hunt has been accused of presiding over an “absolute scandal” after it emerged thousands of NHS patients may have been put at risk by an administrative blunder.
A report from the National Audit Office found over 700,000 letters to patients - including the results of blood tests, cancer diagnoses and treatment plans - had been stockpiled in a warehouse used by NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), a company part-owned by the Department of Health.
Labour's Jon Ashworth branded the Health Secretary’s handling of the issue a “shambolic catalogue of failure”, while backbencher Dennis Skinner suggested he resign, quipping: “Even a cat only has nine lives.”
“The cost of this debacle could be at least £6.6m for administration fees; that’s the equivalent of the average annual salary of 230 nurses,” Mr Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary, added.
Mr Hunt told MPs “no harm” to patients had been recorded in the cases investigated by GPs so far, however he was urged by his opposite number to press for outstanding cases to be probed.
Addressing the Commons, the Health Secretary said of the information stored: “200,000 [letters] were temporary residence forms, and a further 535,000 were assessed as low risk. A first triage identified 2,508 with a higher risk of harm in which the vast majority have now been assessed by a GP”
“Of those, 84% were confirmed as no harm to patients and 9% needing a further clinical review. To date, no harm has been recorded to patients as a result of this incident.”
Mr Hunt accepted the blunder was “unacceptable”, but defended his actions on not going public, as it would have “inundated” GPs with concerned patients.
“If [Mr Ashworth] was in my shoes, and he was given advice that it was the wrong thing to go public straight away because that would compromises the very important work GPs have to do to keep patients safe, he would have followed exactly the same advice,” he insisted.
He added: “What happened at SBS was totally unacceptable, it was incompetent and they should never have allowed that backlog to develop.
"But before he gets on his high horse can I just remind him that SBS was set up, and the governance arrangement, in 2008 at a time when a Labour government was rather keen on contracting with the private sector."
Mr Hunt also dismissed concerns that his position on the body’s board represented a conflict of interest.
“While I do accept that with the government arrangements there is a potential conflict of interest I do not accept there is an actual conflict of interest because patient safety always overrode any interest we had as a shareholder in SBS,” he responded.