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Hospital notes to be typed in India

PUBLISHED: 09:17 26 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:05 22 October 2010

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Norfolk's largest hospital is to outsource thousands of patient letters to India. The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is to run a two-month trial with the Oxford based Alden Group which would see digitally recorded notes sent electronically overseas for typing.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Norfolk's largest hospital is to outsource thousands of patient letters to India. The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is to run a two-month trial with the Oxford based Alden Group which would see digitally recorded notes sent electronically overseas for typing.

Union leaders fear the move is the first step to substantial job cuts among the hospital's 214 medical secretaries and there were also concerns that Alden was picked on the recommendation of Krishna Sethia, a clinical director at the hospital whose brother-in-law runs the firm.

But last night trust chairman David Prior moved to allay staff fears about the scheme. And he stressed that Mr Sethia had no financial link with the firm - and the pilot was being run free of charge.

“There is absolutely no kind of impropriety,” he said. “Krishna is a man of massive integrity and respect in the hospital. He's behaved entirely properly and fully disclosed that his brother-in-law was involved. It's at no cost and they are not making a profit out of this.

“If we decide that the pilot is the right way forward we will go out to tender across Europe. It will be totally above board with total transparency.”

The move comes as the James Paget Hospital, in Gorleston, is believed to be working on plans for outsourcing with another firm Uscribe.

Brian Lynch, Unison regional officer, said there was widespread opposition to the plans and feared it would produce an “appalling service” for patients and widespread duplication

“Staff are worried anxious about their jobs - it's not the way to go forward,” he said. “We are not afraid of new technology or embracing the future - that's a given. But we are intimate with the service and local - it should not just be farmed out.

“Every bit of typing that's done has to be brought back and checked again and details have got to be added - we could have done the letter by then. It doesn't make any sense to do this particularly if there other options available.

He also criticised the Trust for not clarifying earlier the way in which Alden was chosen.

“I'm not saying they have done anything wrong, but they haven't explained why they have chosen this firm out of a number of firms and I think they made a gaff. They should have made it entirely clear.”

The N&N last year abandoned plans for outsourcing after union protests. As well as job losses, secretaries fear patient safety will be at risk through mistyping or misinterpretation of the recordings. Errors picked up at other hospitals which have outsourced clerical work include “phlebitis” mistakenly transcribed as flea bites, “below knee cast” interpreted as “baloney cast” and hypertension (high blood pressure) written as hypotension low blood pressure).

But faced with a £14.8m funding shortfall bosses have decided to press ahead with the pilot.

Mr Prior said the key was accuracy - with a target rate of 98.5pc expected - and confidentiality. Patient names would not be inserted into the letters until after they had been emailed back to the UK, while all staff would hold bachelor of science degrees.

“We've looked very carefully at what Norwich Union have done,” he said. “We want to satisfy ourselves that these two criteria can be met and we can make a significant saving in cost and turnaround time.

“It's something we have to be looking at more seriously,” he said. “If we weren't doing it there would be something a miss.”

Hospital bosses are set to meet staff next week to discuss their concerns and hope to secure an agreement that there will be no compulsory redundancies if outsourcing was adopted longer term.

“I understand their concerns,” Mr Prior said. “If you outsource digital typing they are concerned it will affect their jobs. We have a lot of medical secretaries who are here as agency temps and there is a big turnaround as it's a very difficult job.”


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