By Tony Collins
Croydon Health Services NHS Trust has had mixed success with its go-live of the Cerner Millennium system.
It is said to be a technical success but last week board members of the Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group expressed concerns about ongoing problems with the system.
Fouzia Harrington, director of quality and governance told the Croydon Advertiser: “The implementation [of Cerner] itself went well in technical terms, but there have been some implications about how it has been used by staff.
“It’s had far more impact in terms of the time it takes to book people in, for example. There have also been implications in terms of lost information about patients.
“There has been a lack of information about hospital activity, which has an impact on finances and, potentially,the quality of services patients are receiving…”
David Hughes, a lay member of the board, was not satisfied with that reassurance.
“You say that no harm has occurred,” he said, “but while we’ve had no direct incident so far, patient care has definitely suffered.
“You talk about increased waiting times and there’s a risk that harm may occur because of the difficulty in getting in touch with clinicians who actually know what is going on with the patient.
“I’m very concerned from a quality point of view that our main provider has a serious problem with its information systems.”
Hughes called for action. Although the trust may not be aware of an incident yet it may “come out through further investigation that there has been”.
Some waiting times have increased, the CCG cannot be certain of exact levels of activity at the hospital, and missing information has made it difficult to commission some services.
The concerns were raised at a board meeting on Tuesday.
Dr Tony Brzezicki, chairman of the CCG, said new system would eventually lead to improvements. “Hospital patients had five sets of notes before. That in itself posed a risk that Cerner will mitigate,” he said.
“However, there have been administrative delays which mean longer waiting times for patients.There are also issues for the service to primary care which is a significant risk. Some of the problems have been resolved though I am concerned at the time scale because they are certainly impacting on my practice.”
John Goulston is the Croydon Health Services NHS Trust CEO. One of his previous jobs was as Programme Director of the London Programme for IT at NHS London. The LPfIT was formerly part of the National Programme for IT.
As well as CEO, he chairs 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.
Goulston reported to his board that the Cerner go-live – on 30 September and 1 October last year – was a success.
“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.
Goulston has said the trust deployed the “largest number of clinical applications in a single implementation in the NHS”.
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 Croydon Advertiser asked Croydon Health Servicesa series of questions about Cerner, including its cost to the NHS, but was sent a short statement.
A spokesman told the Advertiser the system would improve patient administration and means that nurses have access to “quality, detailed information” when delivering care.
He added: “During the initial switch over of systems in September while staff were getting used to the system, some patients did need to wait slightly longer to check in for their clinic appointments.
“The trust has maintained and surpassed our 18 week referral to treatment targets from the initial roll out.”
Campaign4Change put some questions to the Croydon trust. These are the questions and its responses: .
Is the trust being completely open – taking seriously the duty of candour – about problems arising from the Cerner Millennium go-live?
“The Trust takes its duty of candour on all issues very seriously; we believe that transparency is essential in running a modern NHS organisation. We are held to account by our board at public meetings, where the public are able to attend and question our senior management team, by our local health overview and scrutiny committee and our commissioners.
“Recent press coverage on CRS Millennium appeared in the local press when the system was discussed in a public meeting of our commissioners.”
As the CEO is leading the Cerner Millennium project, does this make it difficult for trust staff and trust directors to say anything even mildly critical about the implementation?
“Staff opinions on the implementation of CRS Millennium, both positive and negative, are welcomed by the Trust. Staff have given their frank opinions of the system directly to the Chief Executive both in our monthly all staff meetings and at the open staff engagement surgeries held by our Chief Executive and Chairman. All staff opinions are taken seriously and are acted upon appropriately.”
Given the CEO’s enthusiasm for the implementation is there a special onus on the press office to defend the implementation and play down problems? [I note that the Croydon Advertiser implied its questions had not been answered, and that the Trust gave a short statement instead.]
“The communications team respond to and facilitate a large number of external requests, including from the media, in a transparent, timely and appropriate manner. This same approach is followed on questions about CRS Millennium.
“CRS Millennium will bring about many improvements to patient care and Trust efficiency and we are enthusiastic about communicating these; it is unfortunate that recent press coverage did not consider these positive benefits in any depth.”
A comment on the Croydon Advertiser’s website says:
“When I checked in to out-patients I supplied all my personal details; however the post code I gave was declared invalid by the new system. That filled me with confidence. I also gave my contact as a mobile; however they tried to ring me using an old landline number.”
It’s generally accepted that having a high-level sponsor for an IT project is essential but when the lead is the CEO, does that make it difficult for people to challenge and constructively criticise?
A “good news” culture tends to prevail – as happened on Universal Credit, on the BBC’s Digital Media Initiative, and within the Department of Health on the NPfIT. Nobody dared to speak the whole truth to power. The truth tends to surface only when a new administration takes over or, in the case of Universal Credit, the minister obtained his own independent reports on project progress.
Campaign4Change put it to the Croydon trust that board directors see reports on the Cerner implementation only every two months and much can happen in the intervening period. This it did not deny.
Even if the trust’s directors met daily would they dare to challenge the CEO? And will the full facts ever emerge? Things could be much better than CCG directors believe – or much worse.
After nearly every major NPfIT implementation of the Cerner Millennium system in London and beyond (such as North Bristol) the facts were scarce, and reassurances that no patients had come to harm were plentiful.
Here we go again?
Should lessons have been learned from these Cerner go-lives?
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IT system has increased waiting times and led to lost patient data.