Britain’s health service forced 100 thousand people to isolate themselves because of coronavirus. And another ten thousand were told to do so – even though they were already dead.

24 April 2020 By Paul Martin

Originally told they would need to be severely restricted till the end of June, patients are now being taken off the “vulnerable” or “shielded” patients list.

It’s not clear if those wrongly ordered to self-isolate can successfully sue the NHS for loss of earnings or for causing pain and suffering.

Even more astonishingly, NHS letters also imposed the same restrictions on ten thousand people who were already dead.

The authoritative medical trade magazine Health Service Journal said the NHS started writing to people deemed at high risk from the virus on 23 March, telling them to isolate themselves for at least 12 weeks. The initial list of qualifying patients was put together in haste in mid-March. The speed and complexity of the process meant errors were included, the NHS said.

Inclusion on the shielded patient list means people are eligible for ongoing government support, including food parcels and medicine deliveries. This has probably cost the government hundred of millions of pounds, analysts told

The list initially totalled around 900,000, and has now expanded to around 2.2 million.

Initial government guidance was for shielded people to stay in isolation for 12 weeks, though the government is now advising people to stay shielded until 30 June, “subject to ongoing review” irrespective of when they were told to start shielding, according to a bulletin sent to GPs on March 23.

GPs have been provided with letters to send out to people telling them that they were incorrectly included on the vulnerable patient list.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “People are added and removed from the shielding list regularly based on their GPs clinical judgement, with 2.16 million patients identified as being clinically extremely vulnerable so far.”

During a project to send letters to more than 900,000 people placed on the list as part of the scheme’s first phase, NHS mistakenly issued letters to 10,924 people who had been treated with radiotherapy for lung cancer but died between 2006 and 2017.

When drawing up the list, the NHS had to combine routine data from “multiple sources”, in what the organisation described as a “complex process”.

Project chiefs used an algorithm — which was approved by chief medical officer Chris Whitty in March — to identify patients for the list. It includes people with cancer, respiratory conditions, rare diseases, and certain transplant patients.

According to the NHS, the algorithm relied on data held in “clinical codes”, which were “translated” by “expert clinicians” to identify individual patients. However, a “coding issue” resulted in the group of deceased patients being contacted.

The mailing process was suspended for “a matter of hours” after the error was discovered.

In a statement, the NHS said: “Our priority was to ensure that we got vital information to vulnerable patients as quickly as possible.

“In this particular case, we made a mistake by inadvertently writing to a group of patients who had died.

“This shouldn’t have happened, and we therefore wish to apologise for any distress or upset that we have caused.

“We are working hard and at unprecedented speed to get information out to patients as quickly as possible, because we know how important it is that people have accurate and timely information during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

Currently, around 1.3 million patients in England are on the shielded patient list.

The list is being constantly updated when GPs identify eligible patients. Doctors have been given several tight deadlines to submit details of patients, leading to NHS England’s director of primary care apologising for the way the issue had been handled centrally, according to the magazine Pulse.  

In mid-April the Welsh government apologised after a “processing error” within the NHS Wales Informatics Service led to around 13,000 letters warning people they were at higher risk of covid-19 being sent to the wrong addresses.

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