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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 00:15 GMT
Fears over patient record system
Computer
The new system will link 50 million patients' records
The National Audit Office is being urged to investigate reports the switch to a new NHS computer system could have put patients at one hospital at risk.

Reports seen by Computer Weekly show Oxford's Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre saw "major" difficulties when it moved to the 6.2bn patient record system.

Concerns over patients being "lost in the system" were also raised.

NHS Connecting for Health, which is delivering the system, denies patients' safety was affected.

'Untoward incident'

The switch to the new system - which is part of the government's flagship modernisation of the NHS - began in late December.

When it goes fully live it will give 50 million NHS patients an electronic record and link more than 30,000 GPs with 300 hospitals.

It is said to be the world's largest civil computer project.

South Norfolk MP and member of the Commons public accounts committee Richard Bacon has written to the National Audit Office asking it to investigate.

The Computer Weekly report claims papers it has seen revealed that: "Major configuration and software problems led to significant operational disruption, and potential risk to patient safety, business continuity, staff morale and public and patient confidence."

The papers also showed the Oxford hospital filed a "serious untoward incident" report after it encountered problems as it began phasing the system in at the end of December.

Examples of serious untoward incidents can include events which have or may have caused death or serious injury, contributed to a pattern of reduced standard of care, or caused serious disruption to services.

Intensive work by all parties has already resolved the vast majority of issues raised
NHS Connecting for Health

Another document said there had not been enough time to test the system and that it would take the trust some months to address the issues which arose.

A spokeswoman for NHS Connecting for Health said patient safety was never compromised - but admitted implementation of the system caused inconvenience to patients and staff.

"A variety of mechanisms have ensured that functions have continued and patients' progress through the system has been monitored.

"Reporting a serious untoward incident does not mean individual patients were at risk and they were not in this case. It was a general alert in line with proper NHS process.

"The trust, NHS Connecting for Health and Fujitsu, the local service provider, are fully engaged in addressing the issues.

"Intensive work by all parties has already resolved the vast majority of issues raised and we fully expect the remaining small number of concerns to be resolved in the near future."

'Compromising'

She pointed to successful deployments at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre of other computerised systems which are bringing benefits to patients and clinicians.

She added: "In the coming year there will be more than 20 such installations in the NHS Connecting for Health Southern Cluster and we will ensure that lessons are learned from each deployment."

However, Mr Bacon said: "Connecting for Health has many of the hallmarks of a classic IT fiasco," he said.

"It is being foisted on clinicians with no proper consultation and there is over-rapid implementation without proper testing.

"Now we are seeing reports that it is potentially compromising patient safety. Since the National Audit Office is already undertaking a study of Connecting for Health, it should also examine these incidents at the Nuffield."

Computer Weekly's executive editor Tony Collins said: "These are systems that are fundamental to the running of the hospital.

"One hopes there haven't been patient safety implications but the fact is that these reports were written because of genuine concerns that there could be."

Health Minister Lord Warner said no patient's care had suffered as a result of "glitches" in the system.

Health chiefs had been aware of the risks of pressing ahead with a new system but believed they were "worth taking".

"We have been in touch with the Trust medical staff and they have confirmed that no individual patient's care has been adversely affected by the system's deployment but there have been some delays to some appointments."


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