'Heroic' staff can't hide flaws

News Analysis

'Heroic' staff can't hide flaws

The sad thing about the IT-related crises at Milton Keynes General Hospital is that everyone involved wanted its "early adopter" systems installed under the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) to succeed.

A letter signed by 79 end-users at the trust described as "heroic" the staff who have prepared for the systems' go-live, and have worked extra hours to cope with subsequent difficulties. They also described Fujitsu, the supplier of the Cerner Millennium Care Records Service software, as heroic.

But heroism has not prevented glitches that have been "unacceptable and particularly bad in outpatient clinics". The case notes of 40 patients are said to have been lost. This repudiates the main business justification for the NPfIT Care Records Service: that lost case notes would become a thing of the past.

More seriously, say the letter's signatories, "The software is so clunky, awkward and unaccommodating that we cannot foresee the system working adequately in a clinical context."

Milton Keynes is the fifth trust in Southern England to go live with the NPfIT system. There have been complaints at other sites.

Staff at Connecting for Health, which runs the NPfIT, worked hard to ensure success. But the problems seem to be getting more serious.

We do not blame software supplier Cerner. It has a good US-based product that is proving a challenge to anglicise. Yet NHS trusts across Southern England are contractually obliged to install it.

There comes a time when a minister has to say, "Do we really want to continue with this sort of disruption? Or is there a better way, even if we have to admit we got some important things wrong when we first announced the programme?"

Related article: Milton Keynes Hospitals go live with electronic care records
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