Ministers have conceded for the first time that the scandal over 500,000 pieces of confidential medical correspondence has triggered five separate investigations.
Jeremy Hunt had admitted recently that the NHS misplaced approximately 515,000 pieces of correspondence.
These were largely test results and letters from doctors, and the disclosure prompted the allegation that the government had engaged in a massive cover-up in order to hide this issue.
And these calls will only increase following the revelation from the government that five investigations have already been launched into this occurrence.
The concession will be particularly a embarrassing for Hunt himself, who has explicitly promoted openness and transparency in the NHS on previous occasions.
Already the National Audit Office (NAO) and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) are investigating the incident, according to parliamentary questions answered by the health minister Nicola Blackwood.
Their investigations follow three other inquiries already undertaken by the Department of Health (DH), NHS England and NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), according to the health Minister.
SBS is responsible for having distributed such correspondence between 2011 and 2016, placing items in a warehouse and ultimately forgetting to distribute them to 7,500 surgeries located around England.
In the light of these new revelations, the Conservative party’s political opposition has intensified criticism and Parliamentary questioning.
Speaking in the Commons, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, was hugely critical of the failings of the government.
“It is totally incredible that the secretary of state failed for so long to identify this catalogue of errors, and it beggars belief that Jeremy Hunt is refusing to publish the advice which he received. This is a major scandal, and Jeremy Hunt needs to come clean with the public.”
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, also highlighted the failings of the Department of Health, accusing both the department and that the government of secrecy.
“The fact that five separate investigations have been launched shows that the government and NHS England both knew that this was a monumental blunder. But Jeremy Hunt’s attempt to downplay the severity of it, when all this was happening, smacks of a huge cover-up.”
Hunt had already answered a rapidly drafted question in the Commons on 27th February, at which time the Health Secretary downplayed the significance of this issue.
But the Department of Health’s own permanent secretary, Chris Wormald, had confirmed to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee on the very same day that doctors continue to examine over 500 patients who may have been harmed as a result of this oversight.
Responding to Parliamentary questions, the aforementioned Blackwood defended the conduct of the government.
“Given that this national incident is currently subject to an investigation by both the NAO and the ICO, it is not appropriate to publish related documents until these investigations have concluded”.