A hospital trust in Oxford which lost track of crucial data on some patients after going live with a pioneering project under the £12.4bn NHS IT programme was unaware that a similar go-live at another hospital had led to a "serious untoward incident".
This is one of the findings of a joint investigation by Computer Weekly and Channel 4 News. The results of the investigation were broadcast on Channel 4 yesterday evening (11 December).
In December 2005, the Oxford-based Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre installed a Cerner patient administration system as part of the National Programme for IT in the NHS. The go-live led to the trust reporting a serious untoward incident to the National Patient Safety Agency because of what the trust's executives called "potential patient risks".
Though Nuffield later said there was no risk to the safety of patients, the go-live led to some cancelled operations, complaints from patients, and the loss of the trust's status as a top-performing hospital. The incident was the subject of an investigation by the National Audit Office.
Now the Nuffield trust says that when it went live with the Cerner system it was unaware that Newham Primary Care Trust in East London had also reported a serious untoward incident after going live with a similar basic system. Newham's system had lost details on the appointments of more than 200 patients, many of them children.
Nuffield said it believed any faults would have been detected and dealt with by Connecting for Health, the agency responsible for the programme.
A modified Cerner system based on the software installed at Nuffield and Newham is due to be rolled out across Southern England as part of the National Programme for IT.
Martyn Thomas, a visiting professor of software engineering at Oxford University, told Channel 4 News, "It is alarming. If there are known problems then they really ought to be communicated very rapidly to other users of the system."
The Computer Weekly and Channel 4 News investigation also raises questions about the National Programme in general. A hospital consultant, Gordon Caldwell, said that if systems were too slow and badly designed, they could be a major threat to the way hospitals in England work.
A Connecting for Health spokesman said that before its introduction at Nuffield the Cerner system had been "thoroughly reviewed" and key NHS staff assessed it and visited Newham where it "performed well". He said that Nuffield was "now working well with the new system".
Asked whether it was aware of the Newham incident, Connecting for Health told Channel 4 it did not know about it specifically, but said the experience gained there was "incorporated into the planning for the Nuffield deployment".
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