DOZENS of people waiting for important outpatient appointments at Swindon’s hospital fell off the radar, directors have heard.

Great Western Hospital blamed a loophole in an England-wide bookings system. It meant that patients waiting more than six months for a referral for an outpatients appointment had their details wiped from the bookings programme.

The hospital said 134 patients had had their GPs’ outpatients referrals deleted from the system. 106 people had been waiting for more than a year for an appointment.

Jim O’Connell, chief operations officer at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, told colleagues yesterday those affected had been contacted and all but one offered appointments in January. Eight people will require additional treatment, which is expected to be booked before March.

“While of course we very much regret the inconvenience caused to our patients as a result of this error and the consequent delay, our medical teams to date have not identified that any harm has been caused to these patient,” he added.

The hospital chief explained the problem could be more widespread than Swindon.

GWH uses an England-wide NHS system, called the Choose and Book System or eRS, to log details of patients referred by their GP for an outpatient appointment but for whom no slot is yet available. When a free appointment slot becomes available, the person’s details are then passed over to GWH’s own Patient Administration System.

However, managers didn’t know that patients’ details were automatically deleted from the eRS after six months on the national system.

Mr O’Connell said: “Usually, it would not be a problem because patients would have been moved from the eRS system to the trust’s PAS system well within the six month period.” But capacity problems in the gastroenterology and endocrinology departments, dealing with stomach and hormone diseases, a year ago meant patients faced extra-long waiting times.

The process for booking outpatient appointments had now been changed to make sure all patients were listed on the GWH system, rather than the national programme.

Mr O’Connell said the problem had been highlighted to the regulator, NHS Improvement, as other hospitals could also have lost outpatients. “I would be surprised if there weren’t some other trusts out there,” he said. “We were under pressure about a year ago in gastroenterology and endocrinology. I can’t believe there aren’t other trusts out there that don’t have that pressure.

“I caught up with NHSI a few days ago and they’re still processing that, looking at how they can get the message out to other places.”