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They surely should have known better

Christopher got a letter today from the NHS. I opened it with considerable annoyance – surely they should have known that he was dead, since he died under their jurisdiction! The letter said that his medical exemption certificate to give him free prescriptions was about to expire, and would he please renew it. Since he only was eligible for the certificate in the first place because he was terminally ill with cancer, and he hasn’t used it for over four years, you would have thought that it would be something of an indication that he wasn’t in need of it any more. But no.

I phoned up the helpline number on the letter and eventually got through to a person. I pointed out that it was really somewhat upsetting to get letters addressed to one’s very dead husband, and that the NHS of all people really ought to know better! The chap was very apologetic, and said that the NHS systems are all completely stove-piped with no connection between the GPs, consultants and the business services systems. There apparently had been an attempt years ago to connect them, but it would have cost millions of pounds so that didn’t go anywhere. He did however close Christopher’s account and promised that his particular bit of the NHS would never write to him again.

I know that big computer systems in government are clunky, inflexible and expensive. Indeed, I deal in my day job with trying to overcome stove-pipes in information systems that were acquired piecemeal and don’t talk to each other. And I don’t want all my personal data held in one huge insecure pan-government system in a Big Brother fashion. But it’s really annoying when a badly specified computer system causes such completely inappropriate actions to be taken. I’m sure there ought to be ways around it – even if it requires manual intervention to check the register of deaths before sending out automatic letters.