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NHS 24 staff not trained properly ahead of IT system go-live, health board admits

NHS 24 plans comprehensive training ahead of new launch date after helpline was withdrawn 10 days after October go-live

NHS 24 is aiming for a June relaunch of its IT system and says it has learned from its mistakes last year, when it had to withdraw the system 10 days after its original go-live on grounds of patient safety.

As part of its Future Programme, which aimed to improve patient service, supported by modernised phone and online technology, NHS 24 went live with a new IT system from Capgemini in early November last year, two years behind schedule. But after experiencing problems, it decided to withdraw the system and revert to old processes.

A “lessons learned” report presented to NHS 24’s board this month said that launching the system in the middle of winter pressures had been “high risk” and that staff had not been properly trained before the system went live. As a result, some patients phoning the helpline ended up not being able to get through.

“Weaknesses in the training and familiarisation approach resulting in a lack of operational staff's experience of the system, which significantly reduced staff confidence and may have contributed to increased call-handling time,” the report said.

“Any increase in call-handling time may affect patient experience and patient safety and will also impact the access service level for people trying to call in, which, in turn, could cause a patient safety incident.”

NHS 24 says it has learned its lesson and has put in place a relaunch programme to ensure it goes smoothly.

This includes staff engagement workshops for frontline staff, as well as putting in place a “training system which mirrors the functionality of the in-life system as closely as possible”.

Read more about NHS 24’s Future Programme

Last month, NHS 24 told the Scottish Public Audit Committee that it apologised “unreservedly for its failure” to deliver the programme.

The board report said the underlying root causes of the problems were “a failure to comprehensively identify risks around launch, a weak shared understanding at executive level regarding the detailed plan and a lack of independent advice and expertise in call-centre IT system replacement and implementation”.

By the time the system goes live in June this year, it will be three years behind schedule. The implementation of the system had already been heavily critisised in an Audit Scotland report, published in October, which found that poor procurement management, lack of skills and “over-reliance on the supplier” had inflated project costs by 55%, racking up a total bill of £117.4m.

Costs are likely to increase further, due to additional running costs and the costs associated with preparing for the 2016 relaunch, NHS 24 previously told the audit committee. The board paper said that a seven-month extension with Capita for its current system would cost nearly £2.3m.

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