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Coronavirus letters sent in error to deceased patients

We would like to apologise for an error that has led to a very small proportion of the letters intended to notify people most at risk of Coronavirus being sent to patients who have died.

We would like to apologise for an error that has led to a very small proportion of the letters intended to notify people most at risk of Coronavirus being sent to patients who have died.

This specifically affected a group of patients who were treated with radiotherapy for lung cancer. We temporarily suspended the national mailing process to correct this error and can confirm that the issue has now been resolved.

We would like to reassure patients that the first group of 900,000 individuals believed to be most at risk from Coronavirus has been identified and will be contacted. There is also a process for general practitioners and hospital specialists to identify and add other patients to the list should they believe them to be particularly vulnerable; this is expected to add up to 600,000 more individuals.

To compile the initial list of nearly one million vulnerable patients it was necessary to combine routine NHS data from multiple sources. In this extremely complex process, our priority was to ensure that we got vital information to vulnerable patients as quickly as possible.  

Our aim has been to contact the most vulnerable people as soon as possible, with the risk that we would also include a small number of less vulnerable individuals. Most importantly, we are striving to avoid overlooking any individual who is at genuine risk, which is why we have put in place additional measures to identify as many of the most vulnerable people as we can, working with general practitioners and hospital specialists.

In this particular case, we made a mistake by inadvertently writing to a group of patients who had died. This shouldn’t have happened, and we therefore wish to apologise for any distress or upset that we have caused. We will continue to identify and rectify any issues that may arise as this process continues.

Background information

People who have been identified as vulnerable and in the following groups will receive the letters. the category affected is included in italics:

  1. Solid organ transplant recipients
  2. People with specific cancers:
  • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors.
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs.
  1. People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
  2. People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
  3. People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
  4. People who are pregnant with significant congenital heart disease

We have sent a letter to 10,924 people in error; this is 1.2% of the 900,000 people initially identified and contacted.

Contact us

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Last edited: 30 June 2022 11:34 am