The mistake specifically affected a group of patients who were treated with radiotherapy for lung cancer. (Photo: iStock)

NHS Digital has issued an apology after erroneously sending letters, intended for people vulnerable to contract COVID-19, to patients who have died.

The mistake specifically affected a group of patients who were treated with radiotherapy for lung cancer. The agency sent the letter to a total of 10,924 people in error.

“Although we are unable to contact you personally, we would like to say how sorry we are for any distress that may have been caused by the letter you have received,” NHS Digital said in a message to affected family members.

“We are working hard and at unprecedented speed to get information out to patients as quickly as possible, because we know how important it is that people have accurate and timely information during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Our focus is on helping the NHS to support patients and staff in this difficult and challenging time, however in this case we made a mistake, and for that we are genuinely sorry.”

NHS Digital said the error has now been resolved and it will contact the first group of 900,000 individuals believed to be most at risk from coronavirus. GPs and hospital specialists are also tasked to identify and add other patients to the list, and this is expected to add up to 600,000 more individuals.

The initial list is drawn from combining routine NHS data from multiple sources.

The agency urged the recipients of the letter to check the list of identified conditions if they believe they have been included in error.

Patients can ignore the communication if they are confident that this does not apply to them, or contact their GP to discuss further, it added.

People in the following groups will receive the letters:

  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

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