By Tony Collins
John Goulston says the go-live of a new patient records system at his trust is a “success”.
He should know. He’s Chief Executive of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust. He’s also chair of the trust’s Informatics Programme Board which has taken charge of bringing Cerner Millennium to Croydon’s community health services and the local University Hospital, formerly the Mayday.
He was formerly Programme Director of the London Programme for IT at NHS London – a branch of the NPfIT.
In a report two weeks ago Goulston said the trust deployed the “largest number of clinical applications in a single implementation in the NHS”. Croydon went live with Cerner Millennium on 30 September and 1 October 2013.
Said Goulston in his report:
“Administrative functions do not engage clinicians; providing them with a suite of clinical functionality has been justified as each weekday approx. 1,000 staff are logged on and using the system. CHS [Croydon Health Services] has in Phase 1 deployed, in addition to patient administration, the largest number of clinical applications in a single implementation in the NHS England.”
BT helped install Millennium at Croydon under the National Programme for IT. The trust’s spokesman says the Department of Health provided central funding, and the trust paid for implementation “overheads”. The Health and Social Care Information Centre was the trust’s partner for the go-live.
The Centre is the successor for Connecting for Health. It has taken on CfH’s officials who continue to help run the NPfIT contracts with BT and CSC.
Goulston said that Cerner and BT have paid tribute to the trust which installed Millennium in A&E, outpatients, secretarial support and cancer services, and elsewhere.
“Our partners Cerner, BT and Ideal have commented that the Trust has undertaken one of the most efficient roll-outs of the system they have worked on, with more users adopting the system more quickly and efficiently than other trusts … the success we have achieved to date is the result of the efforts of every single system user and all staff members,” said Goulston.
Best Cerner implementation yet?
Optimistic remarks about their launch of Cerner Millennium were also made in 2012 by executives at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust. Their optimism proved ill-judged.
Of the Millennium go-live at Royal Berkshire, trust executives said that it “had been considered to be the best implementation of Cerner Millennium yet and that despite staff misgivings, the project was progressing well”. This positive message should be disseminated, they said.
Months later they told the Reading Chronicle of patient safety issues and a financial crisis arising from the Millennium implementation.
A Royal Berkshire governors Rebecca Corre was quoted as saying: “There is a patient safety issue when staff write down observations and then there is an hour before they can get it onto the computer. If it is an experienced nurse, they may pick up a problem, but others may not.”
Ed Donald, Chief Executive of Royal Berkshire was quoted as saying:
“Unfortunately, implementing the EPR [electronic patient record] system has at times been a difficult process and we acknowledge that we did not fully appreciate the challenges and resources required in a number of areas.”
Are executives and managers at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust now similarly afflicted with an unjustified optimism about the success of their Cerner go-live?
Past consequences of NPfIT go-lives hidden?
The Department of Health has claimed benefits for the NPfIT of £3.7bn to March 2012 but there have been trust-wide failures: thousands of patients have had their appointments, care or treatment delayed by difficulties arising from past implementations of patient record systems under the NPfIT. For thousands of patients waiting time standards have been exceeded or “breached” because of disruption arising from troubled go-lives.
In nearly every case trusts made it difficult for the facts to come out publicly. Vague or unexplained fragments of information about the consequences of the NPfIT implementation appeared in different board papers over several months. The facts only emerged after a journalistic investigation that required scrutiny of many board papers and follow-up questions to the trust’s press office.
So Campaign4Change investigated Croydon Health’s implementation of Cerner Millennium to see if the Francis report’s call for a “duty of candour” over mistakes and problems in the NHS have made any difference to the traditional fragmentation of facts after NPfIT go-lives of patient record systems.
The Francis report called for “openness, transparency and candour“. Trusts were told not to hide sub-standard practices under the carpet. The health secretary Jeremy Hunt said it can be “disastrous” when bad news does not emerge quickly and the public are kept in the dark about poor care.
To my questions about the Cerner Millennium implementation Croydon trust’s spokesman always responded promptly and tried to be helpful. But it appears that trust executives have given him limited information about consequences of the go-live, and have preferred to indulge the “good news” NHS culture that Jeremy Hunt warned about.
On being asked what problems the trust has faced since the go-live the spokesman gave various answers that made no mention of the problems.
“All of our staff received training on the system, and we are continuing to offer our teams support as it is embedded.”
What of the problems arising from the implementation, and has the board been fully informed?
“Millennium has featured regularly on the Corporate Risk Register presented to each Part 1 Board meeting. In addition, implementation has received detailed confidential consideration at Part 2 of Board meetings, (which is why you won’t find it in our public board papers).”
Given Francis’s call for duty of candour, should the trust be more open about its problems?
“The initial roll out for CRS Millennium was introduced over three days at the Trust, with a phased approach. We did this to ensure the system was working in each department, before introducing it in another area.
“We are monitoring waiting time performance and records management so we can identify any issues if they emerge. The system is still being introduced in some services and when this is completed we will be able to assess the overall programme,” said the spokesman.
Does Croydon’s unwillingness to give in its statements to me any details of problems indicate that the culture of a lack of transparency in the NHS will be hard to change, no matter how many times Jeremy Hunt talks about the need for candour when things go wrong?
“I’d like to be clear about the Trust’s approach:
- The Trust board has been cited on the roll out of CRS Millennium and any potential risks throughout the process. As I previously noted, the board received an update in September. The board meeting, which will take place on Monday of next week, will receive a further update from the Chief Executive. The papers from this meeting will be published on our website and the meeting takes place in public;
- A meeting chaired by the Chief Operating Officer has reviewed any operational matters arising on a daily basis. This is an internal meeting for clinicians and managers which has informed the implementation process;
- Patients and visitors to the hospital have been kept fully appraised of the introduction of the system and were made aware that they may experience some delays to the check-in process while staff became familiar with the new computer system;
“These actions would suggest that the Trust has been transparent in its approach. You are welcome to review the board papers when they are published.”
Serious problems now emerge
Croydon did indeed publish its board papers on 25 November 2013 – which is to its credit because not all NHS trusts publish timely board papers.
But it’s mostly in the small print of various board papers that details emerge of Millennium-related problems. The shortcomings are mentioned as individual items rather than in a single, detailed Cerner Millennium deployment report. This leaves one to question whether trust directors have an overview of the seriousness of the difficulties arising from its implementation of a new patient records system.
These are some excerpts from deep inside Croydon’s latest board papers:
Breaches in waiting time standards
- “CRS Millennium (Cerner) Deployment -Network downtime – Week 1. In particular, the significant network downtime in week 1 (BT N3 problem) led to no electronic access to Pathology and Radiology which resulted in longer waits for patients in the Emergency Department (ED) leading to a large number of breaches. This was a BT N3 problem which has been rectified with BT providing CHS with the required scale of N3 access (>600 concurrent users and >1,600 users on any day – which is the largest network usage of any trust in England).”
- • “Hospital Based Pathways: The deployment of CRS Millennium was a particular challenge in the month across the multiple service areas within the Directorate of A&E, Surgery and Maternity.
• “Cancer & Core Functions: With the implementation of CRS Millennium, the open pathways part of RTT [referral to treatment – patient waiting times) may fail the standard – validation will be completed after the narrative for this report... “
Excessive waits in A&E
- “The main drivers adversely affecting the performance in the month [October 2013) for A&E were the deployment of CRS Millennium and the commencement of winter pressures due to the seasonality change. A&E 4-Hour Total Time in Department Target: 95.00%. Actual: 91.57%.”
“The Trust position as at October is an adverse variance of £4.1m. This is a significant deterioration on the Month 6 position. The movement is mainly due to a significant reduction in income mainly as a result of operating issues caused by the Cerner deployment (£0.9m)... Actual £14.8 (£14.8)m; Budget £10.7m; Variance £4.1m.”
“Cerner Millennium: Plan YTD [year-to-date] £245,000; Actual YTD £621,000;
Significant loss in income
“… A new patient administration system was deployed in the Trust on the 30th September and 1st October (Cerner Millennium). The deployment has resulted in significant loss in income in September and October £ 1.1m. Trust performance on Activity Planning Assumptions and Key Performance Indicators is substantially worse than plan …”
“Medical £412k and admin £148k agency levels continue to be high due to cover for vacancies, annual leave, sickness and release of staff for Cerner training. The Trust has also incurred additional costs associated with the Cerner deployment (£600k) including overtime payments to administration staff and training costs.”
Bid to recover Cerner costs?
“… The Trust is currently forecasting a deficit position of £17.8m, which is £3.3m off the plan submitted to the NHS Trust Development Authority. This is a £3m movement from the month 6 forecast and is as a result of operational issues caused by the Cerner deployment. The current projected impact is an additional costs £1.7m and a loss in activity £1.1m . An application is to be made to recover the additional cost/losses relating to the Cerner deployment [of £2.9m] …”
HSCIC support for delays
“Cerner Millennium – Revised implementation date to Sept 2013 (achieved) ,with resultant additional costs including additional PC requirements of £146k, specialist support services £300k, procurement costs £91k, data cleansing costs £200k.
“Health& Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has confirmed support for the delayed implementation will be provided, accounting treatment of support to be confirmed with Department of Health.”
More money to stabilise operational position?
“As a result of operational issues caused by the Cerner deployment , Income is significantly reduced in October. The forecast assumes that the Trust will resume normal operating levels from November and that an element of the income lost will be will be recovered in the latter part of the year. A business case is being submitted to the Trust Board for additional investment in Cerner to stabilise the operational position.
“If there are further operational issues due to the Cerner deployment then this will significantly impact on the year end forecast…”
Principal risk -reporting output from Cerner is not accurate or timely. Officer in charge: CEO. Before go-live risk scores: June 2013 – 16; July – 16; Aug – 10; Sept – 10. After go-live risk score (for Oct): 20 [high risk of likelihood and consequences]
Principal risk – operational readiness following the implementation of Cerner. Officer in charge: COO. Before go-live risk score 15. Post go-live: 20. Risk rating before go-live – Green. After go-live – Red.
Corporate Risk Assurance Framework
Nine risks are reported as Red [two of which relate directly to Millennium]:
“… Reporting output from Cerner is not accurate or timely. Data migration was successful. However reliance on external provider as internal knowledge has not yet been fully gained. A data quality dashboard with exception reporting is in place.
“… Operational readiness following the implementation of Cerner CRS Millennium impact conveyed to Trust Development Authority e.g. ED [Emergency Department] reporting and cost overruns
- Failure of CRS millennium to deliver anticipated benefits – 12. Officer in charge: CEO
- Reporting output from Cerner is not accurate or timely – 20. Officer in charge: CEO
- Operational readiness following the implementation of Cerner – 20. Officer in charge: COO
Croydon’s trust’s response to problems
Said John Goulston, Croydon’s CEO, in his latest [November 2013] report to the board of directors:
“The issues being encountered now with CRS Millennium are not due to any lack of integration testing with legacy applications or testing of workflow. They can be attributed to changing from a 25 year old Patient Administration System (Patient Centre) which did not require working in real time, was simple and intuitive to use, easily configurable and flexible to our needs.
“CRS Millennium’s patient administration functions are almost the complete opposite and the language used is new for our staff i.e. conversations, encounters etc. For our staff it has been a big ask for them to step into and up to such a complex application.”
He added: “The benefits of the new system are that each patient will have a single accurate electronic record that can be viewed and kept up-to-date by hospital and community clinical staff. This will eventually mean less time searching for patient notes, missing documentation and duplicating patient information…
“As with any massive change, there are still some challenges to tackle in making the system work effectively for every single user, in a diverse and complex organisation.
“However the success we have achieved to date is the result of the efforts of every single system user and all staff members. I would like to thank all our staff for their hard work in getting the Trust to this important stage.”
The trust spokesman gave me this statement on the problems:
“The Trust board has been given regular reports on the roll out of CRS Millennium and any potential risks throughout the process, not least through its regular reviews of the Corporate Risk and Board Assurance Frameworks. As I previously noted, the board received a specific update in September.
“As you already know, November’s board meeting received a further update from the Chief Executive. The papers from this meeting were published and the meeting takes place in public; Those attending are invited to put forward questions.
“A meeting chaired by the Chief Operating Officer continues to review operational matters. This is an internal meeting for clinicians and managers which has informed the implementation process;
“Patients and visitors to the hospital have been kept fully appraised of the introduction of the system and were made aware that they may experience some delays to the check-in process while staff became familiar with the new computer system;
“As you highlight from the board report, Cerner & BT noted that ‘the Trust has undertaken one of the most efficient roll-outs of the system they have worked on’ The papers also note some operational challenges as the system was rolled out. These have been addressed as part of the daily meetings I reference above – these are mainly concerned with users familiarising themselves with the system and have been addressed through the support and training staff received.
“In terms of the costs, the introduction of CRS Millennium has been supported by central funding from the Department of Health with the Trust paying the implementation overheads. These costs are a matter of public record and the Trust publishes annual Accounts as part of its Annual Report.”
When you go into hospital it’s reassuring to know the directors will be well informed and open about problems that could affect you.
The approach of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust to openness about its problems is not reassuring. It is no better or worse than other trusts that have implemented Cerner’s Millennium. In fact the timely publication of its board papers means it is more open than some.
But it should not require a time-consuming journalistic investigation to establish the consequences for patients of an NPfIT go-live. It has required just such an investigation after the go-live of Millennium at Croydon.
Board directors will not have the time to dig for, and piece together, information about internal problems that could delay patient appointments, treatment and care. They need the unpalatable facts in one place. Croydon Health Services has failed to make it easy for patients or board directors to see what has gone wrong.
NPfIT deployments at other trusts have led, cumulatively, to thousands of patients having appointments that were disrupted, or who had to wait longer to be seen than necessary, or whose records were not available, or who were seen with another patient’s records.
In shying away from telling the whole truth trusts take their cue from the top: the Department of Health has always made it hard to establish facts about anything to do with the NPfIT. Said the Public Accounts Committee in its report The National Programme for IT in the NHS: an update on the delivery of detailed care records systems in July 2011:
”It is unacceptable that the Department [of Health] has neglected its duty to provide timely and reliable information to make possible Parliament’s scrutiny of this project.
“Basic information provided by the Department to the National Audit Office was late, inconsistent and contradictory.”
Croydon has questions to answer, such as how many breaches of waiting time standards it has had, and may still be having, due to problems arising from the go-live. Other unanswered questions:
- What does a “a large number of breaches” in the Emergency Department mean? Have each the patients affected been told?
- Why are the risks related to the implementation much higher after go-live than before, given that the trust has had years to prepare for the go-live, and the many lessons it could have learned from other trusts?
- Exactly what problems are still affecting patients?
In a post-Francis NHS, Jeremy Hunt has demanded openness about mistakes and problems. There is an agreed need for change – but how can Hunt change an NHS culture – indeed a public sector culture – in which senior executives, in troubled IT implementations, will always emphasise the good news over the bad, perhaps hoping the bad will always remain hidden?