Snail Mail in the digital age.

With the concept and proposed benefits of a paperless society first being introduced back in 1978, it seems absurd that we continue to rely on physical means of written communication when it comes to issues as serious as appointments and updates on critical screening services.

This is even more serious when it becomes evident that letters containing invitations to cervical cancer tests that should have gone to 40,000 women in England between January and June, had not even been sent. Yet this is just months after it emerged that 174,000 women had not been invited for breast cancer screening.

The contractor responsible for these errors, Capita, has previously been under the radar for failing to meet standards in managing the movements of patient records. The British Medical Association stated that problems included delays in records being transferred, even when urgently needed for patient care.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chair, said: “Local GPs are reporting to the BMA that they are facing unacceptable delays in patient record transfers and mistakes in maintaining supplies of crucial medical equipment, like syringes and even prescription paper… These mistakes are directly impacting on the ability of many GPs to provide safe, effective care to their patients… They are in some cases being left without the essential information they need to know about a new patient and the tools to treat them.”

There has been some movement in the right direction by the NHS, in establishing the Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) programme. This is a knowledge sharing platform developed by NHS England. The programme is set up so that “digitally advanced” NHS trusts share their knowledge and experience with other NHS trusts. Specifically, the knowledge gained whilst implementing their IT systems, and especially their experience from introducing electronic health record (EHR) systems.

Therein lies the solution, patients need to be empowered to take charge of their own health and wellbeing, through applications like which give them up-to-date 24-7 access to their health records, they can receive updates for appointments and screening reminders. Adopting this technology more widely would remove huge administrative costs from the NHS, and avoid the frequent problem of paper-based reminders and records getting lost or never being sent.

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