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Thursday, November 02, 2006

NHS and suppliers struggle with basics on CfH patient record system

The National Health Service and its suppliers are struggling to get in place the basic building blocks for the planned national electronic patient record (Connected for Health). The NHS financial deficit from last year and a shortage of resources to train staff appear to be compounding problems linking old systems with the new ones, as well as difficulties in migrating old data to the new systems.

Some NHS trusts have put off taking patient administration systems to wait for new versions of the software, while others are demanding more customisation of the system than suppliers originally envisaged.

Figures released by Connecting for Health, the NHS IT programme, show that of 87 planned deployments of patient administration and other systems between the end of June and the end of October, only 56 have taken place.

They include smaller systems, such as picture archiving to replace x-ray film with digital images. But installations of the basic building blocks for the electronic record - new patient administration systems - continue to run late. Of 43 patient administration systems that the IT programme said should be in place by the end of November, only about 19 have been installed.

Earlier this year one of the leading suppliers said privately that installing the systems should be "like shelling peas" once the first few had gone in.

But comments by suppliers and Connecting for Health on the reasons for the continued delays point to a host of problems.

These include the failure of some trusts to put aside enough money and resources for staff training; the reluctance of some staff to follow procedures with the new systems; extended testing periods when old systems are found to have duplicate records for many patients; and complications when other hospital systems have to be plugged into new ones.

CSC in the north-west put its deployments on hold after a data centre crash in July. It has installed just two out of seven patient administration systems that were meant to be operational, with two more due in December. Southport and Ormskirk has put off installation of its system until beyond next April because of "financial pressures", says Connecting for Health.

In the south, Fujitsu has installed just three out of 14 patient administration systems, with no firm date set for eight of the remainder to go live. Its explanations in-clude "resource constraints" in some trusts, "software errors" during testing, and the requirement for "trust specific" configurations.

On Mon 4 Sep 06 Health Direct warned of a New setback for NHS IT computer project as NPfIT "sleepwalks to disaster" when the troubled multi-billion-pound NHS computer system suffered a fresh blow last night when it emerged that two-thirds of the hospital trusts due to have installed an electronic patient administration system for booking appointments with consultants by the end of October will not meet the deadline.

That the NHS's IT project will end in tears was obvious to anyone with a modicum of IT implementation knowledge when on Thu 8 Jun Health Direct reported that Trusts pay to end NPfIT staff supply contracts in red tape chaos that National Health Service trusts are having to buy themselves out of a commitment to supply staff to companies building the NPfIT electronic patient record system. Trusts in the south are paying Fujitsu £19m after the service found it could not provide 50 NHS employees to help with the programme.

Mr Bacon, a member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "At a time when hard-pressed NHS trusts are having to make painful choices in order to reduce deficits, they are being forced to pay money they don't have and release staff they can't spare for something they don't want and doesn't work."

Separately the FT also noted yesterday (1st Nov 06) that :MPs attack department that 'left people hanging on phone' when almost half of the telephone calls made by the public seeking advice on pensions, welfare benefits and jobs went unanswered after the government closed local offices in an attempt to cut costs and make services more efficient, MPs reported yesterday.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the public accounts committee that scrutinises the effectiveness of public spending, said that people "left hanging on the phone would, no doubt, have met with derisive laughter the claim by the Department for Work and Pensions that it was modernising the delivery of welfare benefits".

Mr Leigh said local offices, which many people used to visit, had closed but "the telephone service provided has often been unresponsive, over-complicated and unreliable . . . and, stop me if you heard this before, the underlying IT system is complex and unreliable".

The committee recommended that the government "should not introduce systems which are not fully tested and without enough suitable staff being available and properly trained to use the system".

The full sorry story on another Labour IT incompetence project is at:


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