Visions of deaths caused by possible mistakes made by medical secretaries in India have been raised to prevent transcription work in British hospitals from being outsourced to India and the Philippines.
Several hospital trusts of the National Health Service (NHS) have outsourced medical transcription work to India, with more considering the option to cut budgetary deficits. The moves have prompted a welter of protests from medical secretaries and unions.
The latest to face opposition to outsourcing medical transcription to India is the NHS Southport and Ormskirk Trust, which is battling to reduce a 15 million pound deficit. Its plans to outsource work to India have prompted unions and medical secretaries to raise the prospect of patients in Britain dying due to mistakes by medical secretaries in India.
The British Society of Medical Secretaries (BSMS) has warned that outsourcing work to India could result in deaths.
Kathy Perkins, chairperson of the BSMS, said: "Inevitably, there will be a patient death directly attributable to the wrongful interpretation of a crucial word or drug dosage by an outsourced worker unfamiliar with the language or terminology.
"This will cause an outcry and the emphasis will shift back to requiring medical transcription by trained medical secretaries. But the damage will have been done. The majority of medical secretaries will either have been made redundant or left the service. British medical secretaries aim for 99.8 percent accuracy in transcriptions."
Reports from Liverpool say that medical secretaries in the trust are furious on being asked to describe how they did their jobs to see if the work could be transferred to India and the Philippines.
Under plans considered by the trust, doctors would dictate their notes into a machine. Audio files would then be emailed to be typed up by workers in the Philippines or India, where the average wage is a fraction of that paid to medical secretaries in Britain.
Public service union Unison claimed that outsourcing such work by some hospital trusts had already led to mistakes with the potential to endanger patients.
Regional officer Colin Baker said: "I have written to the chief executive complaining that this matter was not raised through the proper channels. Our medical secretaries have said they will have nothing to do with it. The union will oppose any effort to take these people's work away."
Southport's Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh described the plans as "barking mad", and said: "The one thing there needs to be in any good hospital is a close connection between the administrative and the clerical staff.
"If you have them in two different places, on different continents then it's going to be very hard to achieve."
A spokesperson for the trust insisted that outsourcing transcription to India was only one option they may consider in a bid to cut costs. Clare Vattev, business manager at the Trust, said: "We will be looking at a number of options and the use of digital dictation and out-sourced transcribing may be considered.
"The trust is currently reviewing its secretarial functions with a view to improving both the efficiency and timeliness of its communications."