Temporary secretaries abroad spell danger for UK patients

The employment of Indian secretaries on the sub-continent to type up British patients' medical notes is causing confusion and concern, according to leading health experts.

Glaring mistakes have been logged by part-time typists, hired abroad to save money and speed up administration time for the NHS.

Some staff errors are simply "lost in translation" but other, more comical blunders, are to have serious consequences if drug quantities are wrongly noted.

This emerges from the Association of Medical Secretaries, which has kept a log of some of the more noticeable offenders.

One case reveals a drug issued for stomach ulcers called "Lansoprazole," was transcribed as the popular British holiday resort of "Lanzarote."

A "below knee amputation" was processed as a "bal-oney amputation" - while a "eustachian tube malfunction" was processed as "Euston station tube malfunction."

Michael Fiennes, of the Association of Medical Secretaries, said: "Some of these are funny and we cannot say the mistakes have caused problems yet but there are real concerns about drug quantities being misheard, 15mg for 50mg, for example.

"I have no doubt the secretaries in India type very good letters but they are not trained medical secretaries familiar with medical terms."

The NHS have been using temporary staff because of a shortage of secretaries, causing the hospitals to send the work overseas.

Typing staff in India earn around a third of what a medical secretary receives in the UK.

Eight London hospitals are using or considering the service of Omnimedical, which offers a group of secretaries in India to transcribe letters from tapes dictated by consultants.

The company claims to be one in a number of new businesses providing transcribing services at a higher level of quality than on offer by temporary staff under the NHS.

The service is on trial at St George's Hospital in South London and handles about 1,000 letters every month.

Under Omnimedical, a patient's personal details are stripped out before the letters are sent to India.

The group said their service was infinitely better than temps' and provided "a high level of quality control and very good feedback."


20th August 2004

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