CANCER SCARE: Computers book healthy patients for 'urgent' treatment

COMPUTER glitches at the Royal Free Hospital have caused surgical operations to be cancelled and given a mother a cancer scare. Two patients have complained to the Ham&High about mix-ups which meant they were contacted about someone else's illness

Katie Davies

COMPUTER glitches at the Royal Free Hospital have caused surgical operations to be cancelled and given a mother a cancer scare.

Two patients have complained to the Ham&High about mix-ups which meant they were contacted about someone else's illness.

Harriette Meynell had a baby at the Royal Free and shortly afterwards received a letter for an appointment. The letter came complete with her name and NHS number, and asked her to call the hospital without delay.


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"I was expecting a post-natal appointment when I received the letter. I was quite frightened as I thought they'd found that I or my baby had something wrong," said the mother-of-two who recently moved from Swiss Cottage to Palmers Green.

"When I called up they went all quiet, like when they have really bad news to tell you. Then they told me it was a cancer ward.

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"I told them I didn't have cancer - I'd just had a baby. Eventually they apologised and told me it was a mistake. The letter had all my details, including my NHS number. It's very worrying to think what they've got on my notes now.

"The hospital is fine when you get to see someone, but the admin is terrible. Twice I've had appointments cancelled on the day."

The cancer scare took place last November but nothing seems to have improved. Earlier this month Joan Lipkin-Edwards from Hampstead Garden Suburb received a phone call to confirm a surgery operation on her ear.

The 59-year-old was not expecting an operation at all and informed the hospital of its mistake. But rather than tracing the real patient, the hospital sent Ms Lipkin-Edwards a letter saying she had cancelled the appointment and was therefore being removed from the waiting list.

"I feel sorry for the poor person who was meant to have surgery and now has no idea it's been cancelled," said the Hampstead Way resident. "They sent me a letter saying my plastic surgery was cancelled because 'the patient denied treatment'.

"But I didn't deny treatment - I told them they'd got the wrong person.

"The real patient needs serious surgery but has been taken off the list. I also received a letter in January saying I had skipped an appointment when I wasn't even told I had one. It's ridiculous."

The Royal Free was due to sign up to a costly new national hospital IT system, the NHS Care Records Service, earlier this year, with the aim of modernising record keeping.

However, it has been criticised by other hospitals and Royal Free chief executive Andrew Way last Friday refused it on the grounds it hasn't yet been proved. It is expected to arrive in May.

A hospital spokesman insisted the current system is working and the two instances were isolated mistakes. He added: "From our initial investigations it would appear that Ms Lipkin-Edwards was added to the Trust's waiting list and offered admission by mistake and that she did not receive a letter telling her about another appointment in January.

"We would like to apologise for the inconvenience these errors caused. Both will be investigated thoroughly and lessons learned to improve our administrative processes where necessary.

"From the little information available about Ms Meynell's letter, we can find no reason for it to have been sent and apologise for any inconvenience it caused. If she is able to locate it and send it to us we will investigate further."

katie.davies@hamhigh.co.uk

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