Exclusive: Thousands hit by ‘appalling’ appointment failings at three Yorkshire hospitals
Some outpatients at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust failed to receive follow-up appointments, putting them at risk of harm, while others received multiple letters about the same appointment including one giving them a date and another cancelling it in the same envelope.
Others received letters when they were not due appointments or with too little notice. Some were warned their appointments would be cancelled unless they called to confirm them - but could not get through to a call centre that was overwhelmed in the confusion.
Among the blunders in the switch to a new £1 million computer system, 9,000 people failed to get outpatient appointments over a five-week period due to a simple failure to print out letters.
Some problems only came to light after doctors complained of empty slots in clinics, forcing hospital chiefs to order a suspension of the booking system.
Bosses at the trust, which runs hospitals in Wakefield, Pontefract and Dewsbury, sought to suppress details of the failings but have now been ordered by the Information Commissioner to make them public after a year-long fight by The Yorkshire Post.
The problems in autumn of 2013 forced a series of extra clinics to be set up and compounded existing delays in outpatient appointments, which led to a huge backlog of 20,000 at one stage last year - some more than a year overdue. The delays were raised as a serious concern by Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors.
Last night Batley and Spen MP Mike Wood said: “This investigation bears out what we knew to be true from the number of complaints I received from constituents. The damning thing being not just the massive inconvenience but the extra danger that patients were placed under, particularly for cardiac patients who needed regular follow-up appointments that were missed.
“I am concerned that this continues to be an issue at these hospitals and that all of this is symptomatic of the trust’s broader attitude and culture.
“The problems with the appointments system was something I raised at my last meeting with the CQC but I would like to congratulate The Yorkshire Post for persisting so that the reality of this appalling situation can finally be acknowledged.”
Officials at the Mid Yorkshire trust refused to say how much the problems had cost taxpayers or explain why they battled to keep details of the failings secret.
Neil Clark, a director of operations at the trust, said there had been significant improvements in outpatient services although it was acknowledged “there is still further work to do”.
He said: “There have been no patients identified as having come to harm as a result of previously delayed appointments.
“We added additional clinics to ensure that patients were seen as quickly as possible and we are continuing to do so. This means we no longer have a major backlog of patients waiting to be seen.”
Problems with the switchover to the same system at the Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS trust have led to an 18-month delay in its deployment until the end of 2015. Officials said the time was being used to make sure information could be safely moved over and carry out robust testing.