By Tony Collins
Conservative MP and member of the Public Accounts Committee Richard Bacon called today for a halt on deployments of the NPfIT Cerner Millennium system after patient safety problems at hospitals in Oxford and North Bristol.
Other hospital deployments underway include Royal Berkshire and Imperial College London. The BBC has reported that patient-booking software at North Bristol was regarded by some consultants as ‘potentially dangerous’.
The software was installed at the Trust last month under the National Programme for IT [NPfIT]. According to a BBC Points West investigation, the implementation led to some patients missing their operations and, in other cases, the wrong patients being booked for operations.
One consultant told the BBC he had been put down to operate on patients from a completely different speciality. Patients were also being booked for unlikely appointment times, such as five minutes past midnight, and patients were said to have turned up for phantom appointments on the New Year bank holiday.
Separately the Oxford Mail reported this week that Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, which includes Nuffield Orthopaedic, John Radcliffe, Churchill, and the Horton General hospitals, has difficulties booking in patients for treatment. It deployed the Cerner Millennium software in December.
According to the Oxford Mail, some patients ringing in to book appointments waited up to an hour to have their calls answered and appointments were so delayed the Trust abandoned car parking charges for three days.
Patients reported problems that included ambulances queuing outside of A&E as staff struggled to book in patients.
Pensioner John Woodcock told the Oxford Mail that it took a week of calling the local contact centre to book an appointment for an important stomach examination.
The contact centre gives patients the option of leaving a message for staff to call back, or to join a phone queue. The 75-year-old said “I managed to get an appointment in the end by staying on the phone but it took half an hour almost.”
An Oxford University Hospitals spokesman was unable to say when the system would be able to function without delays but suggested it could be up to three months. Hospital officials blamed the disruption on deployment problems and training issues.
Bacon has long criticised the National Programme for locking the NHS into buying software that was unreliable, subject to serious delays and, even after contract renegotiations, unreasonably expensive.
He disclosed that the costs of a Cerner Millennium deployment at the North Bristol NHS Trust are about £29m over seven years. This is more than three times the reported £8.2m price of a similar system, bought outside the National Programme, at University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust.
“We now have two of our leading hospitals brought to their knees by this system. These deployments need to be stopped until we are sure that they can be managed safely.”
He added “Effective, affordable and robust IT systems are vital to the future of the NHS, but it is clear that the fiasco that is the National Programme cannot deliver them.”
One patient emailed the Oxford Mail to say that the gain will be worth the pain.
“… A word of congratulations to staff. I too had problems with booking an appointment a few days after launch, but sent an email to which I first received an answer in the form of a call-back to fix an appointment and then a personalised apology and explanation…
“Think about the time, effort and accuracy gains of an electronic records system, and not having all those sometimes thick files being ferried round the different departments; think too of the gains in patient confidentiality – now every time someone accceses your records, that will be logged.
“When things have bedded in properly, and I believe this will be sooner rather than later, if the committed and dedicated staff have anything to do with it … we’ll soon come to be grateful, both for the increase in efficiency and the financial savings – which can then be used on frontline services…”