A PENSIONER almost missed his hip replacement operation because Royal Mail refused to give him a letter from the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre unless he paid a £2 surcharge – and he may not have been the only one.

Anthony Burden, of Summertown, was expecting a letter from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) about the surgery and spent the Christmas period waiting for confirmation of when his operation, which had already been cancelled three times, was going to happen.

But the 72-year-old did not initially think to connect the important information with a note put through his door at the beginning of January from Royal Mail, saying he needed to pay £2 if he wanted a letter addressed to him delivered by the postal service.

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The hospital trust has now admitted the request was down to a technical error on its end and more Nuffield patients may have been affected by the labelling problem, though insisted the number was 'very low'.

Mr Burden said: "Luckily, when I didn't hear anything I called up the hospital and they said my operation was due to go ahead on January 8 and they had sent a letter about it on December 30.

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"This is nothing against the hospital staff who were superb and I'm recovering well now but what if it had been say a 90-year-old woman who was relying on that letter to know when to come in?"

The £2 surcharge was to cover an outstanding postal fee not covered by OUH, with the trust blaming it being 'franked with the wrong postage' and Royal Mail saying the 'meter impression was not printed correctly'.

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For organisations like OUH that send out a large number of letters, franking services allow them to save time by printing postage in-house, which is done for all inpatients.

Sam Foster, chief nursing officer, at the trust said: “I was very sorry to hear of the inconvenience to Mr Burden.

"It is good that he had the presence of mind to chase his appointment letter and so was able to make his appointment."

She added:"Thanks to Mr Burden raising this issue, we investigated this incident and it appears that some patients at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre may have received a letter that was franked with the wrong postage.

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"We are very sorry for the inconvenience to Mr Burden and to anyone else who was affected.

"We are taking steps to make sure this does not happen again."

Mr Burden, a plumbing and heating engineer with his own business before he retired, also criticised how Royal Mail handled the situation.

He said:"I can't get over the response from Royal Mail when I called them up and they said they knew the letter was from the NHS but that didn't matter.

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"I've run a business myself so I understand but I think there needs to be a responsible way of doing things. Royal Mail should have got in touch with the hospital and charged them so the letters went out properly."

He added: "I can't think of anything more important than people's health."

A Royal Mail spokesperson said 'every item' of mail was important and surcharging customers 'is the last thing we want to do'.

They added: "We would urge all people and all organisations sending mail to ensure they use the correct postage. In this individual case, the meter impression was not printed correctly.

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"The surcharge that is levied helps to cover the extra cost of handling items that have been underpaid.

"Royal Mail's licence to operate means that we must treat all customers in the same way.

"If customers are in any doubt whatsoever about the correct price for an item of mail they should ask at their local Post Office, check online at royalmail.com or call our customer helpline on 08457 740 740.”