Tag Archives: Cerner

IT crisis management – an ongoing NHS case study

By Tony Collins

When a public-facing go-live goes wrong should communications be neutral in tone – or accentuate the positive?

On 8 December 2011 North Bristol NHS Trust went live with the Cerner Millennium electronic patient records system under the NPfIT programme.

At first Trust staff thought the difficulties were confined to a mix-up over outpatient appointments but it later transpired that there were 16 “clinical incidents” between 1 December 2011 and 17 January 2012 that were related to the Cerner Millennium implementation.

The Trust has published regular public information notices on the benefits, expected benefits, and problems arising from the Cerner implementation.

Reassuring in tone, the notices have made no mention of anything more potentially serious than administrative “issues”:  non-existent appointments were set up and letters sent to patients in error. The notices said that though the “issues” caused disruption and frustration, patient safety had not been compromised. The Trust apologised to staff and patients.

Clinical incidents

No mention was made in the notices of staff having reported clinical incidents in which the new patient records system was a causal factor. The NHS usually categorises  each clinical incident as a  “near miss” or “actual harm”.

In Campaign4Change’s various conversations with the North Bristol Trust over the potential seriousness or otherwise of its IT problems, one thing has been clear: it is pleased with the level of public information it has given out over the problems:

–       regularly-updated messages on its website,

–       briefings to the media including interviews for regional BBC and ITV channels by Ruth Brunt, the Trust’s chief executive,

–       board papers,

–       on-time answers to requests under the Freedom of Information Act

–       leaflets and posters placed in outpatient clinics and on car parking machines explaining that the Trust was implementing a new computer system and apologising for any delays patients may experience

The Trust also gave GPs a dedicated telephone number, fax number and email address for GPs or their patients to contact for further advice.

Profuse public information

We agree that the Trust has run a diligent public information campaign; and its communications staff have always responded quickly to our calls –  and with the documents we requested. The staff were frank in answering our questions. They told us that no decision has been taken yet on whether the Trust will publish the results of an independent inquiry into the Cerner implementation.

But if the Trust doesn’t publish the lessons from its Cerner implementation, it may wish to be reminded of a warning by the Local Health Board of Merthyr Tidfil, at the top on its Clinical Incident Reporting Policy paper: –  To err is human; to cover up is unforgivable; to fail to learn is inexcusable.         

If the Trust does not publish how will others learn from its mistakes?

Accentuate the positive?

The quantity of public information released by North Bristol NHS Trust is not an issue – but how informative is  it? Does the wider culture of the Trust still force staff to accentuate the positive?

The first of the Trust’s website statements on the problems of the Cerner implementation came about five weeks after the go-live. The opening sections of the statement made no mention of any problems. Indeed a series of bullet points listed the benefits of the system:

  • Patient records will now be securely stored electronically on a single system, replacing paper records.
  • Authorised clinicians can quickly find and share information on patients and their medical history and no longer rely on paper filing records.
  • Clinicians will also be able to access records at the patient’s bedside and can input information and statistics immediately.
  • Patients will no longer have to repeat their details to different clinicians as they will be accessible in one place.
  • Tests and outpatient appointments can be set up immediately with the patient.

The Trust’s website statement went on to say that “many”wards as well as A&E at Frenchay Hospital [Bristol] are using the new system.

Only if you’ve read this far will you see a reference to problems.

“However, we have experienced some unexpected problems in the last few weeks with outpatient appointments…”

“Huge improvements”

The current media statement is, again, more upbeat than neutral.  The vague mention of problems is countered by the equally vague claim of “huge” improvements.

“At North Bristol NHS Trust we have been implementing a new electronic patient record system to replace an outdated, less efficient system. Our wards, two minor injuries units, the Emergency Department, theatres and maternity are using the new system.

“However, we have experienced some unexpected problems with some of our outpatient clinics resulting in non-existent appointments to be set up and letters sent to patients in error. Our priority is always patient safety and we are clear that this has not been compromised.

“These issues have caused disruption and frustration for our patients and our staff and we recognise that this has not delivered the level of service that we expect, and the public expect, from us. We apologise wholeheartedly for that.

“Our staff have shown real commitment, hard work and dedication to continue to deliver patient care. Our Information Management & Technology Team worked very hard to rectify these problems as quickly as possible and we have seen huge improvements.

“The system in all outpatient clinics has now been rebuilt and relaunched. These clinics are now in a position to effectively use the new electronic records system. We anticipate there will be a further transition period for staff in those clinics. We firmly believe that the new system, once fully implemented, will improve services for our patients and provide real value.”

Campaign4Change pointed out to North Bristol that board papers on the troubled Cerner implementations at Barts and The London were commendably detailed and informative.

Barts had referred breaches of government targets on waiting times, complaints from patients, delays in the reporting of statutory and other trust performance information, extra costs, losses of income because of reduced activity, and the effect of data errors. There has been little of any of this from North Bristol’s public information campaign.

Freedom of information

Indeed North Bristol has refused to answer questions that were asked under the FOI Act by D Haverstock of the South West Whistleblowers Health Action Group.

The Trust refused Haverstock’s requests for:

–        a copy of your Cerner implementation plan, including pilot

–        the criteria on which the go-live decision was taken

–       a copy of the issues log for the implementation, with a full history of closed and open items.

–        reports on Cerner Project Board/Steering Committee meetings.

The Trust did give Haverstock a vague answer to her question on whether the Trust will have to take over the running costs of Cerner from 2015 when the Department of Health’s NPfIT contract with BT ends.

The Trust said the running costs for Cerner will become the Trust’s responsibility from October 2015 – but it doesn’t know for certain what the costs will be.

“The exact costs are still being calculated, but will be around the same levels as our previous patient administration system, we estimate,” said the Trust.

North Bristol declined to answer Haverstock’s other questions because “at this time the Trust feels that to answer your questions regarding the Cerner Millennium implementation would compromise our position with BT and Cerner”.

Rightly, Haverstock challenges the Trust’s use of the word “feels”. Rejections of FOI requests should be based on facts not its feelings.

Says Haverstock in her request to the Trust for an internal review: “Subjective feelings are not a valid reason for rejecting an FOIA request. What is your objective, evidence base for rejecting this request? [Thank to Theyworkforyou.com for this information.]


Poorly-designed health IT can kill, according to a US Institute of Medicine report “Health IT and Patient Safety Building Safer Systems for Better Care” in November 2011.

The report says:

“Poorly designed health IT can create new hazards in the already complex delivery of care.

“Although the magnitude of the risk associated with health IT is not known, some examples illus­trate the concerns.

“Dosing errors, failure to detect life-threatening illnesses, and delaying treatment due to poor human–computer interactions or loss of data have led to serious injury and death …”

There’s no evidence that the problems at North Bristol have caused any harm to patients. Indeed the Trust, in reporting the clinical incidents in response to a BBC’s reporter’s FOI request, says its “robust safeguarding processes, as well as additional checks and balances in all departments” have “ensured that clinical safety was not compromised and no patients were put at risk”.

It adds: “Our priority is always patient safety and there is no indication that this has been affected.”

But would we know if patient safety had been affected? In its public information campaign the Trust has been prolific. But the accent on the positive, rather than a neutral and factual account of the specific problems, has left us with little confidence that all the truth has yet come out.

In an IT-related crisis it is not a mass of information that the public and media regard as helpful but specific answers to specific questions. Has North Bristol managed its IT-related crisis well? Up to a point, Lord Copper.

MP questions costs of North Bristol Cerner system

Sir David Nicholson challenged on North Bristol’s Cerner costs

North Bristol system has more problems than anticipated.

North Bristol hits appointment problems

Cerner system “too entrenched” to be scrapped.

NPfIT Cerner go-live at Bristol – Trust issues apology

By Tony Collins

North Bristol NHS Trust has issued an apology on its website after problems with the implementation of a Cerner Millennium patient record system under the National Programme for IT.

Some Bristol consultants had regarded the software as installed at the Trust as “potentially dangerous”.

The Trust went live on 9 December 2011 with a Cerner patient administration system at Frenchay Hospital and Southmead Hospital that replaced two systems. But the Trust has had to revert to paper in some areas.

On its website the Trust says that its “65 wards and maternity department are all using the new system successfully”.

It accepts that it has “experienced significant problems” in outpatient clinics. It says “These problems have been caused by the incorrect set up of clinic lists, which meant staff could not access the system and errors in the data migration of existing appointments.

“As a result, some patients may have received the wrong appointment dates, no confirmation of appointment or letters being sent out in error.  Again, processes are in place to minimise further disruption to out-patient appointments and ensure patient safety.”

TheTrust says it has engineers and technicians re-building the clinics’ system or they are “in clinics correcting problems as they happen, providing solutions and resolving issues”.

The intention is that 90% of areas will be using Cerner by the end of today [31 January]. “Our aim is that by early February all outpatient clinics will be using Cerner. All other outpatient appointments are being managed via other systems and paper processes.”

The Trust says it is contacting patients by phone or letter to advise them of their current appointment slot. “We have ensured that any urgent referrals including cancer two week waits have been prioritised to ensure they are unaffected.”

It adds “During the process of correcting the issues with outpatient clinics and to support GPs and their patients we have written to them to advise them that all patients who have been referred to us either through Choose & Book, fax or Fast Track are within our appointments system.

“We have advised GPs of a dedicated telephone number, fax number and email address for GPs or their patients to contact for further advice. To provide further reassurance to patients and GPs we will keep the helpline service running until the end of February.”


The Trust says on its website:

“We apologise and would like to thank the public for their patience and our staff for their hard work and dedication in ensuring that patient safety is not compromised.

“These issues have caused disruption and frustration for our patients and our staff and we recognise that this has not delivered the level of service that we expect, and the public expect, from us.

“It has also placed extra workload on our staff, who nevertheless, remain dedicated to ensuring the best possible patient care during this period, and managing the issues that the Trust faces.

“Our Information Management & Technology Team, supported by our suppliers BT and Cerner, have been working very hard to sort out these initial issues and we are already seeing improvements.

“We remain confident that once the new system is fully implemented, it will significantly improve services for our patients and better equip us to meet future challenges.”

Meanwhile the Bristol Evening Post reports that the Chief Executive of the hospital trust, Ruth Brunt, has called for an independent inquiry into the issues surrounding the implementation of the Cerner system.

She said people who have turned up to appointments and operations that have been cancelled or were not on the system would be compensated.  A hotline has also been set up so that people can check whether their appointments are in the system.

The Bristol Evening Post also reported that reception staff had walked out due to the pressure of dealing with patients who were unhappy to find their appointments not on the new system.

“It is horrendous – what used to take us five or six clicks is currently taking 24 and we cannot access the details,” a staff member said. “The notes have not been available when people turn up.

“We have all worked hard and I am sure if it was anywhere else we would have gone on strike. The people on the ground are struggling. It is really demoralising because we are doing our best. Girls on reception are dealing with queues of people and there has been an occasion where a receptionist has walked out because they were so stressed.

“When patients call up we want to be able to help them, but at the moment we don’t know where to look.”

The employee did not believe the trust’s claims that everything would be sorted out by 13 February.

Halt Cerner implementations says MP

NPfIT Cerner go-live at Bristol has “more problems than anticipated”

By Tony Collins

The BBC reports that there are “more problems than anticipated” with a patient-booking system at two Bristol hospitals run by North Bristol NHS Trust.

The trust describes the problems as “teething”.  Consultants say the problems are “potentially dangerous”.

Last month North Bristol went live with the Cerner Millennium system under an NPfIT contract with BT. The Trust says problems are due to software being used incorrectly. They have led to some patients missing their operations and the wrong patients being booked for operations, says the BBC.

Emails from executives at Frenchay and Southmead hospitals, seen by the BBC, said staff should be “vigilant” to check lists were “completely accurate”.

BBC Points West’s health correspondent Matthew Hill said emails sent by consultants to hospital bosses claimed operation lists printed by the system were “complete fiction” and “potentially dangerous”.

One consultant told the BBC he had been put down to operate on patients from a completely different speciality.

The trust said there had been “teething problems” and that there had been “more problems than anticipated”.

In an email to staff the trust said the change of system had been “a very big change” so there was “no surprise” there had been difficulties.

A trust spokesman said there were a series of problems around outpatients and the associated clinics and some of the data moved from old systems had not migrated as planned.

“We need to ensure that we rebuild and recreate the clinics to match what people expect them to be on the ground,” he said.

“In theatres we have had some issues but have absolutely ensured from the outset that clinical safety has been at the top and have ensured any risks and issues have been mitigated.”

Conservative MP Richard Bacon, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, has established through a Parliamentary question that the cost of the North Bristol Cerner implementation is much higher than for a non-NPfIT installation in the same city.

Health Minister Simon Burns told Bacon that the costs of a Cerner Millennium deployment at the North Bristol NHS Trust were £15.2m for deployment and an annual service charge of £2m.

This brought the total cost of the Cerner system over seven years to about £29m, which was more than three times the £8.2m price of a similar deployment outside of the NPfIT at University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust.


Several Cerner implementations under the NPfIT have gone awry but the problems have eventually been resolved. The question is whether patient care and treatment is affected in the meantime. The lack of openness over problems with patient care in the NHS mean that the answer will probably never be known, which underlines the need for better regulation of hospital IT implementations.

Does hospital IT need airline-style safety certification?

MP questions why IT costs at two nearby hospital trusts are vastly different for similar systems

By Tony Collins

A Conservative MP has asked the NHS Chief Executive Sir David Nicholson to explain why an NHS trust is deploying a centrally-chosen Cerner patient record system at more than twice the cost of a similar but non-NPfIT system at a nearby Foundation trust.

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust is deploying the Medway system from System C  (now owned by McKesson] at a reported cost of £8.2m over seven years. The acute trust is one of the largest in the country.

With support for less than five years, the nearby North Bristol NHS trust is taking the Cerner Millennium patient record system under the NPfIT at a cost of £21m from BT – and the go-live date in June has slipped to July.

Now Richard Bacon, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, has written to Sir David Nicholson asking for an explanation of why the two trusts are paying vastly different amounts for systems that do similar things. Bacon has also asked Nicholson whether he believes the higher sum is value for money.

The average cost of BT Cerner go-lives under  the NPfIT is £28.3m according to the National Audit Office.

Bacon’s letter is part of evidence which suggests that continuing NPfIT contracts is costing hundreds of millions of pounds more than necessary.

The coalition government, despite its plan to cut public sector IT costs, may spend a further £3bn to 4.bn with the NPfIT’s two major suppliers, BT and CSC, though the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority is reviewing CSC’s £2.9bn worth of contracts.

Bacon’s letter also questions advance payments to CSC, and whether a recent hearing of the Public Accounts Committee was told the full truth.

An unwavering defender of the NPfIT, Nicholson is likely to defend the cost of the North Bristol implementation, and the advance payments to CSC. On costs, he will argue that North Bristol’s systems have better resilience than at non-NPfIT sites.

If that were true – and there is no evidence it is – the extra costs of having a “hot”, or real-time standby data centre, may not justify a doubling of a rival’s prices. 

This is Bacon’s letter to Sir David Nicholson:

Chief Executive, National Health Service, Department of Health, Richmond House, London SW1A 2NS

27 June 2011

Dear Sir David


I am writing following the hearing of the Public Accounts Committee on Monday 23 May 2011, to follow up on two important issues that were raised during your evidence:


In your supplementary memorandum to the PAC following the hearing you gave a total of advance payments made up to 31 March 2011, in respect of all contracts over the whole period of the Programme, of £2,532m of which suppliers have retained £1,328m. You also identified a further £119 million of advance payments to be earned or refunded.  Since the memorandum was received by the PAC, it has been reported that the NHS made an advance payment of £200 million to CSC in April 2011.

I should be most grateful if you would let me know the answers to the following questions:

Is this report accurate?

Why was this payment was not reported to the PAC, either during the hearing or in the subsequent memorandum?

What was the justification for this payment and what value does it represent to the NHS?

What will happen in respect of this payment if a new memorandum of understanding is not in fact signed with CSC?

I would also be grateful if you would comment on the CSC filing with the US Security and Exchange Commission, which states that in the opinion of the company, if the NHS were to terminate the current contract “for convenience” it would owe fees totalling less than the $1 billion asset value CSC now has on its books for the contract.  

How is this consistent with the claim at the PAC  hearing by Ms Connelly that the cost of terminating the CSC deal could “potentially leave us exposed to a higher cost than if we completed as it stands today”?


Second, I would be grateful if you could comment on the cost of deploying Cerner Millennium at North Bristol, reported in your memorandum as £21 million, including service for 56 months, and on the current expected go-live date.  Specifically:

Can you explain why the delivery date agreed with BT at the contract “reset” was 4th June 2011?

Why it was then revised to 2nd July 2011?

And why it now appears that there is no agreed delivery date at all?

Can you also give your best comparison of the cost of deploying the Cerner Millennium system at North Bristol, with the cost to University Hospitals Bristol of deploying the System C Healthcare Medway system outside the National Programme?  It would appear from media reports that this latter contract includes deployment of functionality including PAS, Accident and Emergency, maternity, theatres, clinical data collection, and a data warehouse and reporting system, as well as integration of third party and current Trust applications.  According to the National Audit Office, the average cost for each new site under the BT South contract is £28.3 million, but the cost of the Medway system to UHB has been reported as £8.2 million over seven years. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/healthcare-network/2011/may/19/university-hospitals-bristol-foundation-trust-awards-e-patient-contract)   What is the justification for this apparent difference?

As the Senior Responsible Owner for the National Programme, can you give your explicit undertaking that the North Bristol contract represents value for money for taxpayers?

I look forward to receiving your reply.

With many thanks

Yours sincerely

Richard Bacon

MP for South Norfolk, Member of the Public Accounts Committee

Who’ll support the NPfIT now?

By Tony Collins

The departure of Christine Connelly as health CIO at the end of this month will leave the NPfIT’s main civil service supporter, Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS and Senior Responsible Owner of the NHS IT scheme,  more isolated.

That Nicholson is a supporter of the continuance of the NPfIT is not in doubt. He spoke about the NHS IT scheme last month in terms of life and death. At a hearing of the public accounts committee on 23 May 2011, Nicholson said:

We spent about 20% of that resource [the £11.4bn projected total spend on the NPfIT] on the acute sector. The other 80% is providing services that literally mean life and death to patients today, and have done for the last period.

“So the Spine, and all those things, provides really, really important services for our patients. If you are going to talk about the totality of the [NPfIT] system … you have to accept that 80% of that programme has been delivered.”

But without Christine Connelly, who put detailed arguments in favour of continuing with iSoft’s Lorenzo, and who was solidly behind the costly implementations of Cerner by BT, Nicholson may not have the civil service backup he needs to promote the continuance of the NPfIT.

The Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority, under the directorship of the independently-minded David Pitchford,  is now reviewing CSC’s £2.9bn worth of NPfIT contracts. It is known that the Authority regards the new proposals worked out between CSC and the Department of Health as poor value for money, even with CSC’s willingness to reduce the value of its contracts by £764m, to about £2.1bn.

That promised reduction comes at a cost. A leaked Cabinet office memo said that the CSC’s proposals would double the cost of each Lorenzo deployment.

The easiest thing for Nicholson and the Department of Health would be for the Major Projects Authority to approve the deal worked out between CSC and the Department of Health, and simply sign a new Memorandum of Understanding which would be, in part, legally binding.

Strong grounds for ending CSC’s NPfIT contracts

The more difficult but more practical alternative is for the Cabinet Office to require the Department of Health to end CSC’s NPfIT contracts, which would leave the NHS more able to decide its own IT-based future.

Indeed the signs are in some trusts that officials are not unhappy about Connelly’s departure in that they perceive it may weaken the centre’s control over NHS IT.

Legally it appears that an end to CSC’s contract would be feasible. The Department of Health has accused CSC of a breach of contract because of its failure to achieve a key milestone; the Department has also notified CSC of “various alleged events of default under the contract” which are “related to  delays and other alleged operational issues”. The Department is considering its position on termination of all or parts of the contract.

But the Department has not taken its claims to arbitration; its allegations are only a formal legal manoeuvre at the moment.

CSC accuses NHS of failures and breaches of contract

CSC has reacted by accusing the NHS of a breach of contract. The company’s formal legal position is that it has cured or is preparing to cure the faults that led to the alleged breach; it says that failures and breaches of contract on the part of NHS have caused delays and issues.

The DH could end CSC’s contract for reasons of convenience which could trigger a request from CSC for a large sum in compensation. But the Department could give strong legal reasons for not paying. Although CSC could pursue its claim for compensation, it may be on soft ground because of its failures. Also, CSC, if it pursues any legal action, could jeopardise its other work for government: some of its other major contracts with the UK government are with the Identity and Passport Service, which is part of the Home Office.

The Coalition is now supervising its major suppliers, including CSC, in the round, which is reason enough for CSC to do all it can to maintain a good relationship with the Cabinet Office.

CSC would support NHS trusts even if its contracts ended

The  Department of Health is concerned that if it ends the NPfIT contracts with CSC, the supplier may leave unsupported many trusts that have CSC’s iSoft software installed. That is highly unlikely, however, because CSC has a $1.03bn investment in the NPfIT contracts according to the regulatory reports to US authorities.

In the NHS CSC has a large customer base. Through its acquisition of iSoft, CSC will want to capitalise on its investment in iSoft’s Lorenzo software by selling it across the globe. That’s its stated plan. So CSC’s continued support for NHS trusts that have installed iSoft software is not in doubt.

What NHS Trusts want

The best outcome of the negotiations with CSC, for NHS trusts that have installed iSoft software, is that they have the:

-choice to continue with CSC if the price is right

– buy support elsewhere, or

– choose a different product.

Will CSC’s NPfIT contracts end by mutual agreement? – it’s possible

The question is: does the Cabinet Office have the courage to end CSC’s contract, freeing up billions of pounds that would otherwise have been spent on the NPfIT without a commensurate return for taxpayers, the NHS or patients?

It seems  so, even if it means paying a relatively painless sum to CSC as compensation for termination.

Leaked memo reveals CSC’s plans.

A sign that coalition reforms will change behaviour of major suppliers.

Health CIO resigns – Cabinet Office executive steps in.

Example of a trust that’s succeeding without the NPfIT – Trafford General Hospital.

Connelly at odds with PM over NPfIT value for money?

NHS CIO in dramatic resignation.