A serious incident investigation has been launched after almost 2,000 referrals to two London trusts were put on hold due to “resourcing issues” at a primary care trust.

A memo from NHS Enfield turnaround consultant lead Margaret Blackett, seen by HSJ, says there is a “backlog” of around 1,500 patients referred to Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals Trust and around 1,000 destined for North Middlesex University Hospital Trust.

The primary care trust has since clarified that the actual total figure is 1,974.

While none of the patients were classed as “urgent cancer referrals” by GPs, all cases are being assessed to ensure any suspected to be cancer related are seen urgently by specialists.

The memo says: “I am writing to you to advise that due to some internal problems, SCAS [the PCT’s demand management service] has a backlog of referrals waiting to be entered on to [the choose and book system].” It adds: “This is an isolated incident and systems are being reviewed to ensure that it does not occur again.”

An investigation is ongoing and the north central London PCT cluster is writing to every patient apologising for the delay, while senior hospital staff are contacting patients by telephone to arrange appointments.

The specialist clinical assessment service run by NHS Enfield was launched in 2004 to screen non-urgent GP referrals.

Guidance for PCTs using the clinical assessment service function of choose and book says: “Delays in processing patients referred to a CAS undermines the confidence of both the patient and clinician in the choose and book referral process.”

An NHS Enfield spokesman said: “The inadequate administration arose within the Enfield SCAS due to resourcing issues of clerical staff and recent service changes. Interim additional clinical and clerical staff are being appointed as a temporary solution while a more permanent solution is put in place.”

“Investigations to date by clinical staff have confirmed that no patient has come to direct clinical harm as a result of this issue, and this is being monitored. No patient has waited more than six weeks for an appointment.”