Press release: private IT firm puts patients at risk

Health campaign group Doctor for the NHS (DFNHS) has said that an IT firm losing thousands of letters to GPs from hospital trusts is ‘yet one more example of outsourcing harming patients – and costing more money in the end, as well as placing lives in danger’.

 The IT company Cerner was supposed to send out over 28,000 letters to GPs about treatment their patients were getting at several London hospitals – but has failed to do so. Prompting the NHS to launch an inquiry to try to establish if any patients have been harmed. GP letters were traditionally sent out by consultants’ medical secretaries – who had extensive local knowledge and could be contacted directly –  but increasingly this type of ‘administrative’ work is being outsourced to private companies, often located remotely from the trust and with staff who have little to no personal contact with the trust consultants or GPs.

DFNHS spokesman Alan Taman said:

“The NHS is increasingly compelled to outsource ‘back office’ functions like this, traditionally the remit of the medical secretary  – who knew the consultants, the department, the associated departments and trusts, their counterparts in them, at least some of the local GPs, many of the patients, and was effective in the role. Not perfect. A little more expensive than what seems to be a cheaper option.

“But by outsourcing – supposedly to save money – mistakes like this one are going to be made by commercial companies whose principal remit is to make a profit. They will not have such a good local ‘feel’ for the patients, GPs or consultants. Trust processes are likely to regard what was a largely internal, self-regulated and responsible process with a human face as an external, largely abhuman series of steps, with little to no personal involvement  at local level. Are errors like this not only more likely but more likely to be missed?  At whose cost?  The patients – the very people the NHS is meant to serve. Proving, yet again, the cardinal principle – that if you introduce market norms into a public healthcare system, corruption and unfairness are bound to follow.

“This nonsensical obsession with high-tech ‘fixes’ is fast proving to be far from the money-saving, slick service it was promised to be: dystopian danger to the vulnerable seems ever more likely.”



Editor’s Notes

Doctors for the NHS (DFNHS) was formed in March 2015 by the NHS Consultants’ Association re-naming itself and asking GPs and medical trainees to join. It has the explicit aim of countering marketisation [1,2] of the NHS by gathering the already impressive evidence (eg, on health funding – see OECD figures below); pointing to its ill effects on NHS services and founding principles; and campaigning widely to stop then repair the damage before it is too late and cannot be reversed.

DFNHS’s press officer is Alan Taman:

07870 757 309

[email protected]


Facebook: DoctorsForTheNHS


[1] Davis, J., Lister, J. and Wrigely, D. (2015) NHS For Sale. London: Merlin Press.

Leys, C. and Player, S. (2011) The Plot Against the NHS. Pontypool: Merlin

Lister, J. (2008) The NHS After 60: For Patients or Profits? London: Middlesex University Press

Owen, D. (2014) The Health of the Nation: The NHS in Peril. York: Methuen, Chapter 4.

Player, S. (2013) ‘Ready for market’. In NHS SOS ed by Davis, J. and Tallis, R. London: Oneworld, pp.38-61.


[2] The belief that ‘competition is always best’ does not work when applied to healthcare. A comprehensive and universal health service is best funded by public donation, which has been shown to be far more efficient overall than private-insurance healthcare models

[Davis, J., Lister, J. and Wrigley, D. (2015) NHS For Sale. London: Merlin Press. Chapters 2 and 8.

Lister, J. (2013) Health Policy Reform: global health versus private profit. Libri: Faringdon.

Pollock, A. and Price, D. (2013) In NHS SOS, ed by Davis, J. and Tallis, R. Oneworld: London, 174.]

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