Many column inches have been given over to various disasters which have occurred in the English Health Service in the past few years, but it shouldn't be assumed everything is rosy in the Scottish Health Service.
It's not too long ago, after a consultation at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, a friend told me about problems within one of Scotland's largest hospitals. Her husband's GP had suspected her husband may have a serious illness and arranged an urgent appointment with a specialist at Ninewells. The specialist informed the husband that he would like the opinion of a colleague and said he would arrange another appointment as soon as possible and let his GP know.
After a stressful couple of weeks the husband telephoned the surgery and his GP returned his call, only to tell him that the letter had been incorrectly addressed and the next consultation date was passed. She then had to re-organise the appointment and because the specialist was on holiday, it was delayed by near four weeks in all.
Whether this delay will have any effect on the outcome of his treatment will only be known once it's completed. The GP and the initial consultant had processed the appointments with some speed, only for everything to grind to a halt because of administrative incompetence.
Recently the Tayside Local Medical Committee arranged a survey of more than 500 referrals only to find that half of the letters sent by Ninewells Hospital about outpatients' treatment were addressed to the wrong GPs. The committee, which represents all Tayside GPs, has spoken out after seeing the accuracy of electronic and surface mail from both Tayside hospitals - the other being Perth Royal Infirmary - fall to 65%.
A couple of years ago NHS Tayside said the problem would be fixed by linking referrals to a new piece of software. After allowing the new system to bed in, the committee arranged another audit and the results were even worse. The accuracy dropped to an average of 65% - 72% from PRI and 50% from Ninewells.
There is no excuse for this level of inefficiency because I'm informed there is no shortage of administration staff in either hospital and the problem can't be shifted onto the nursing staff who check patients' details when they arrive for an appointment.
If administration staff are unable to correctly process GPs' details, how many more errors are created either electronically or on paper?
After my c.difficile infection cleared, I had to see two specialists at Ninewells. Neither had my notes and I had to relay my medical history on both occasions. What a waste of their time and mine.
More seriously, how often is such incompetence causing fatalities? Alex Neil, Minister for Health, needs to investigate this problem and find out how widespread it is throughout Scotland.
Not all departments performed poorly and credit was given to opthalmology, plastics and dermatology in Ninewells, but if a patient has to attend urology, ENT, orthopaedics or gastroenterology there they should be aware that communications between their GP and consultant could well go astray.
I would suggest we all take more responsibility for our health and if we have the misfortune to have to see a specialist who says they will contact your GP with their opinion, that we keep close contact with the surgery until the correspondence arrives.
Editor's note: The answer to yesterday's post was knocker-up. A wee bit more can be read about it here.