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Last week, the results of the Audit Commission’s latest National Duplicate Registration (NDRI) exercise hit the headlines across the country. ‘Ghost patients’, it seems, really capture the imagination of the UK media. While some of the figures quoted in the papers were not ours, the coverage drew attention to something the Audit Commission often writes about, but which doesn’t always receive much attention – data quality

For those who missed the story, NDRI helps to identify anomalies on GPs’ patient lists. Those anomalies can then be investigated locally, and anyone who shouldn’t be on the list can be removed. Every removal saves the NHS £64.59, the amount GPs are paid for each patient on their lists. Our latest exercise, carried out in the 2009/10 financial year, led to the removal of 95,000 patients, and a saving of £6.1 million to the NHS.

Records are removed for a number of reasons. NDRI flags up ‘matches’, which are records that appear on more than one GP’s list, or on another relevant list. Those matches are then passed to local organisations (National Health Applications and Infrastructure Services NHAIS sites), which investigate them and remove records where appropriate, on behalf of the primary care trust (PCT). Duplications account for 31 per cent of the records that were removed. In other cases, patients appeared on a GP list despite their name appearing on a list of people who have died (34 per cent of the total removed), or on a list of failed asylum seekers who have left the UK (10 per cent of records removed).

While £6.1 million is a significant sum of money, the problem shouldn’t be overstated. Those 95,000 records represent just 0.16 per cent of the population. Even if we accept that some obsolete records remain on patient lists, they are a drop in the ocean compared to the vast quantity of data that the NHS handles every year. On the whole, the NHS and GPs generally manage patient lists well.

The NDRI’s impact cannot be disregarded, however, particularly at a time when the NHS has to make unprecedented savings. Those savings must be squeezed from every corner of the health service, and data cleansing offers a saving opportunity that definitely won’t adversely affect services for patients. In fact, in some cases, it might improve the patient experience, by ensuring that the right patient records are in the right place.

Despite this win-win opportunity, our report did uncover some areas that have failed to follow up the ‘matches’ that we found, and have therefore missed out on potential savings. We have since been in touch with these sites, and are hopeful they will act on our findings. Of course, the onus is on each local health body, be it the PCT, GP surgery or NHAIS site, to keep their records up to date, exorcising their own ghost patients without the need for help from the NDRI.


Written by Andy McKeon
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 10:10

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