Plans for Royal Mail delivery cuts could risk patient safety, NHS leaders warn | NHS

NHS leaders have warned that Royal Mail’s plans to cut second-class deliveries to two days a week could risk patient safety.

The changes are part of wider measures announced by Royal Mail’s parent company, International Distributions Services (IDS), including cuts of up to 9,000 routes, which could take more than two years to implement, saving £300m a year. IDS has assured the Royal Mail workforce that there will be no compulsory redundancies and they will request only 100 voluntary redundancies.

In a letter sent to the Telegraph, executives from the NHS, Healthwatch England, the Patients Association and National Voices said the Royal Mail proposals would increase the cost of missed appointments, which already exceeds £1bn.

The letter said: “Provisional Healthwatch data suggest that more than 2 million people may have missed medical appointments in 2022-23 due to late delivery of letters, and this will only deteriorate under the proposed new plans.”

The health leaders added that a solution must be found to prioritise the enormous volume of correspondence sent from NHS teams and ease the disruption for health staff and other patients, “otherwise, more people will miss time-critical appointments, appointment changes or vital test results”.

New data indicates that late-arriving letters are responsible for 25% of missed hospital appointments. A range of NHS letters, including critical appointments, treatment plans and test results, rely on second-class stamps.

Late letters are a further strain on NHS waiting lists, which number as many as 9.7 million people, according to data from the Office for National Statistics released this week.

Sir Julian Hartley, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said the proposed delays were “extremely unhelpful”.

“It’s really important that patients be updated at the earliest opportunity on developments in their care and treatment,” he said.

“An efficient, punctual postal service remains a key part of that process. At a time when far too many patients already face long delays – the last thing any trust leader wants – anything that adds to that uncertainty, and possibly the worsening of conditions, would be extremely unhelpful.”

Jacob Lant, the chief executive of health charity National Voices, said: “The proposals being consulted on risk further delaying vital communications and worsening digital exclusion, therefore unfairly widening health inequalities. NHS mail must remain a priority service.”

A spokesperson for the Royal Mail told the Telegraph that the service was “committed to working with a range of NHS bodies to explore options that could provide more reliability for time-sensitive medical letters”.

He added: “The NHS is complex and made up of hundreds of different trusts and thousands of GPs as well as other services, each with varied requirements. Going forward, we will continue to offer them a choice in service levels and pricing to suit the differing priorities of each part of the organisation.”

The postal regulator, Ofcom, has produced a series of options for the postal service. These include cutting service days from six to three days and a more expensive service for next-day deliveries. Ofcom is expected to continue to discuss the proposals with industry and publish an update in the summer.

The Royal Mail has been approached for comment.

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