A Prescription for Trust

In NHS2.0: Beyond Beveridge: NHS 2.0 we suggested that:

“Contemporary technology applied intelligently would allow a transformation in management and the cost of the necessary bureaucracy both increasing effectiveness and reducing cost.”


A reliably sourced story, received yesterday, suggests that there is much unexplored potential available from effective application of technology and much risk residing in the current situation.

On 11th May 2022 I bought a 12 month NHS prescription prepayment certificate (PPC). On 29th January 2023, I collected my prescription as normal and signed to say I have a PPC.  (It expires on 12 May 2023) Yesterday, I received a letter saying the NHS can’t find my PPC and think I may have duped them.  The letter mentions various penalty notices and charges if I did not reply.  They suggest I should work with them to resolve the situation.  So, I sent all documents showing they were wrong by email last night and asked for an immediate explanation of their data processing error.  I received an email saying they are very busy.  This does not surprise me!

So today, I tried to call, I did this three times to their centre in Newcastle.  Each time, after a monotonous message, they said they were too busy and to call back.
So, I will keep trying. 

Less ‘together’ people might be badly affected by the letter I received.  The really interesting thing is that this has been caused by their inability to manage their data estate.  It is their data processing error of my personal data and the next stop is the ICO to raise a formal complaint.  

Costs may be small but multiplied by goodness knows how many times they have made such processing errors. The costs of erroneous data.

I realise this type of thing is an ailment of modern organisations, but it’s a useful anecdote to show how broken their systems appear to be.  As for me as the citizen, I roll my eyes. 

An overnight rest……………………

No email response so I called them again this morning.  After about a 15 minute delay I provided particulars to an automated system.  

I spoke to a customer contact agent and she immediately apologised for their error. It was seemingly abundantly clear to her that the scanning of the prescription form has caused a ‘3’ to be recorded as a ‘1’.  She was unable to understand why this would be so as the images were very clear and this would have been obvious to the human eye. 

Seemingly the letters like the one I had received are generated automatically by the computer when an anomaly is registered. 

The lady was an excellent agent, repeating her apologies and expressing that this case would be raised with her manager.  She clearly wanted to improve the system, and acknowledged the distress these letters can cause for patients. 
I asked for a written explanation to be sent.  She kindly said she would pass this to the help desk. She has since rapidly closed the case.

So, the cybernetics here are fascinating.  The technical system, a machine using optical character recognition, was unable to deal with data variety.  This caused cost and a loss of service confidence which was regained through appropriate human intervention.  There remains an error in processing the personal data. If personal data and contractual commitments cannot be managed and curated competently then trust will be lost in the system. NHS 2.0 has much ground to cover!