Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Medical records lost after error

Mary Corbey has called for changes to the system and increased accountability

A case of mistaken identity has revealed serious concerns over the way the NHS transfers medical records, BBC Scotland can reveal.

An internal review has been conducted following the case of an Ayrshire woman whose records were transferred from her GP surgery without her knowledge.

Mary Corbey's records were mistakenly sent to a doctors' practice in Manchester.

The error meant she was removed as a patient at her own surgery.

Ms Corbey only discovered the mistake when she went to the doctor with symptoms consistent with cervical cancer.

She found she had been removed from screening programmes years earlier.

BBC Scotland can reveal that Ms Corbey's records had been sent from her GP in Girvan to Manchester after they were incorrectly matched with another woman with the same first name whose date of birth had been incorrectly entered.

Members of the public contacted the BBC to tell of their experiences of misplaced medical records. Here are some of their stories

"After 48 years at the same practice I was told I was not a patient there. It turns out my records had been transferred from Forth Valley to the health board in Ayrshire."
"I was removed from my GP list on two occasions and my notes were merged with another lady in England. On one occasion I was removed from the practice records for many months.
"It only came to light when I applied for insurance and my GP was asked for a report on my medical history.

"When I eventually got my medical records there was medical data relating to another patient with a similar name."

"My friend and I caused chaos from the time we went to school until we left to go for different universities.
"We had the same names [no middle names] lived on the same street, our fathers had the same name, our mothers were both nurses and we went to the same school.
"When visiting the GP when I was about 12, the doctor made a comment about me having had measles and chickenpox twice. It transpired that at some point one set of medical records was used to update medical information for the two of us."

"I realised that since I had been removed from that surgery, I had been removed from screening programmes. Since I needed treatment for a serious gynaecological problem, it was extremely alarming," she said.

Mrs Corbey, who did not have cervical cancer, added: "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this has happened to other people, and I strongly believe that other people may well have also been given false reassurance that everything is ok because the documents have ostensibly stayed within the NHS.

"But there are over 60,000 GPs within the NHS and they all have supporting staff and they are not all entitled to have access to a patient's records."

About 500,000 sets of medical records belonging to patients in Scotland are transferred between GP practices every year because people move house or change their doctor.

Mrs Corbey's case sparked a review of the rules regarding the transfer of medical records by NHS National Services Scotland.

Its report recognised that current practices may not meet legal requirements regarding data protection and need to be reviewed "as a matter of urgency".

Mrs Corbey said she believed the whole system was open to abuse or fraud, and called for urgent action to make the transferral of medical records more secure.

'Fraud and identity'

A spokesman for NHS National Services Scotland said the security of patients' GP records was taken "very seriously" and processes were designed to ensure that cases such as Mrs Corbey's were "very rare".

He said: "We met with Ms Corbey on a number of occasions to discuss her concerns. We also commissioned an independent review into how the transfer of GP records is handled throughout the NHS.

"This produced a series of recommendations, for us and for other bodies, on how to improve processes. These include requiring GP practices to validate that records transferred to them match the patient, formal agreement on data protection responsibilities, and a public awareness campaign on the issue.

"Since the report was published and shared with stakeholders in December 2009, we are implementing those recommendations that relate to us, as well as contributing to work on fraud and identity in the NHS."

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