The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has criticized NHS England and the Department of Health for their poor supervision of NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS).
In its report, the PAC stated that lax monitoring and leadership has resulted in a staggering mishandling of sensitive clinical data by NHS SBS.
The PAC is looking into problems dating back at least three years, and NHS England told the committee that there is a further backlog of 162,000 items which need to be assessed.
The committee said proper handling of clinical correspondence forms part of administering care for patients, and NHS SBS, which was contracted to redirect up to 700,000 items of mail a year, failed the patients and general practitioners (GPs) for whom it was supposed to be redirecting correspondence.
The NHS England is still assessing 2,000 patients to determine whether they have suffered harm as a result of the delay in handling their correspondence.
The PAC said NHS England assumed without evidence that a further 102,000 patients have suffered no harm as a result of the delay.
Until April 2016, NHS England contracted NHS SBS, a private company partly owned by the Department of Health, to ensure that misdirected clinical correspondence is sent to the correct GP in the East Midlands, South West and North East London.
In March 2016, NHS SBS told NHS England and the Department of Health that it detected a backlog of correspondence which was not redirected, some dating back several years.
In total, 709,000 items of correspondence were found to have been mishandled, but NHS SBS missed several opportunities to identify and rectify the problem.
PAC chairperson Meg Hillier said: “We will never know the scale of emotional distress caused to patients by the shoddy handling of NHS clinical mail – a failure in service delivery which stretches back years and has still to run its course.
“NHS England must obtain positive assurance from every GP reviewing correspondence that they have completed their checks and whether they have identified any cases where patients may have been harmed.”