The collapse of Cornwall's strategic alliance with BT has scuppered a plan for the county's hospitals to digitise three quarters of a million patient records.
After more than two years of planning on the aborted BT venture, the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust may now miss the government's deadline for all NHS hospitals to be able to share patient records electronically by April next year.
Simon Goodwin, director of health informatics and ICT services at Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, said: "The strategic partnership was to have a scan-on-demand health records service, to make traditional health records available electronically. Instead of sending a traditional health record when it was requested, we planned to scan it.
"Our options are now uncertain. In terms of health record scanning, we will go out to a new procurement.
The BT Strategic Partnership collapsed earlier this month when the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust pulled out following legal advice. Goodwin said the trust's withdrawal had nothing to do with the NHS's digitisation mandate.
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Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said in January a 12-month target for hospitals to share patient data would help avert further organisational failures like those at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Robert Francis QC, in the report of a public enquiry into sub-standard care at the Mid-Staffordshire Trust last week, said the NHS must make better use of its patient data and urged for real-time reporting.
Goodwin said the Cornwall Hospitals Trust was not unusual in its dependency on paper patient records: "We are in line with 99% of the rest of the NHS, coming from paper-based to electronic records."
We need to scan the historical records to join them up with the electronic records
Simon Goodwin, Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust
Building an electronic patient records system
Cornwall has meanwhile been striving to implement a system that will handle electronic patient records.
"I'd say we are about half way along the journey, so about 50% of our records are digitally created at the point of happening," said Goodwin. "We will [complete] it in the next three to four years. Alongside that we need to scan the historical records to join them up with the electronic records."
Cornwall Council has implemented a patient records system from Irish Medical Systems in about half of around 40 specialist clinical units, each with different requirements for what the record should carry and the system should do.
The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust pulled out of the BT partnership after a council revolt caused the venture to be altered drastically and lawyers said it would have to be retendered. Other Cornish NHS bodies in the partnership said they were considering their options.
The BT partnership would also have acquired Cornwall Hospitals Trust's IT infrastructure and involved the merging of its two datacentres, with two operated by the council.