• Delays meant some tests could not be processed and others were rejected
  • No evidence of harm to patients
  • Problems put extra strain on GPs, says LMC

Nearly 2,500 patients have been recalled for extra tests after problems with a merged pathology service between Medway Foundation Trust and Dartford and Gravesham Trust.

Issues included blood samples being delayed for so long they could not be analysed and 600 samples being rejected in the first week after services transferred to the merged service.

No evidence of clinical harm has been found so far but the delays are being treated as a serious incident, and NHS England and NHS Improvement have been informed.

Many routine blood tests from the Medway and Swale areas are now tested at the Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, as part of a joint pathology service between Medway FT and Dartford and Gravesham Trust. This went live for some services in April with blood sciences being centralised from mid June.

However, since the Darent Valley laboratory took on this additional workload, there have also been problems with the transmission of results to GPs with some practices not receiving results or getting incorrect results, according to governing body papers for the area’s clinical commissioning groups.

Some samples should have been “spun” to ensure they remained stable overnight and could be tested the following day – but this did not happen and the red blood cells broke down, the papers suggest.

A leaked document, seen by HSJ, shows the depth of the problems. The laboratory at Darent Valley used slightly different coding systems to the one at Medway meaning that GPs in the Medway area had to manually update their computer systems with new code matches, and update some historic entries.

In addition, issues with the computer system reconciling practice email addresses meant that some practices were initially sent results on paper, which took up to 10 days to reach them.

In a statement, North Kent Pathology Services said it was aware of delays in processing and wanted to apologise to patients, GP colleagues and healthcare professionals affected.

“Patient safety is our absolute priority, and therefore we are working with Dartford and Gravesham Trust, Medway Foundation Trust, and local NHS commissioners to put things right and minimise any risk to patients,” it said.

“We have processes in place to identify all patients who need further tests and ensure that they have, or are being, re-tested. Patients have responded to our recall and many patients have already been re-tested with their results put on the system for clinicians to review. We have notified patients’ GPs and hospital doctors about the recall and confirmed which of their patients are having tests repeated. A continuing clinical review has not identified any patient harm as a consequence of the delays.”

Dr Guarav Gupta, chair of the Kent Local Medical Committee, said the problems had impacted on GP practices which had had to put resources into sorting out the problems. “It has had a much wider effect than just doing some tests again,” he said.