London Ambulance Service suffers New Year system crash

Control room staff forced to use pen and paper as five-hour outage hits performance of ambulance service’s communication systems

An unspecified technical fault forced the London Ambulance Service (LAS) to log emergency calls using pen and paper for about five hours on New Year’s Day.

According to a BBC News report, the computer systems used by LAS to log calls and share real-time information about the locations of ambulance crews failed, resulting in a reported slowdown in response times.

Peter McKenna, deputy director of operations at LAS, confirmed in a statement that the control room resorted to using pen and paper to log calls between 12.30am and 5.15am on 1 January.

 “Our control room staff are trained to operate in this way and continue to prioritise our response to patients with life-threatening conditions, using the same triage system as usual,” he said.

“We also have additional clinicians on duty to offer control room staff clinical advice if needed.”

An investigation into the cause of the technical problems is under way.

Speaking to BBC News, Malcolm Alexander, chairman of the LAS Patients’ Forum, which monitors the performance of the service on behalf of the public, said the organisation was keen to know more about why the system failed on one of its busiest nights of the year.

“We want to know why this system, which cost so much money and is supposed to be so effective, is not fail-safe,” he said.

Read more about London Ambulance Service IT

“If this system fails at a time when there is huge pressure on the system, for example if there is a major disaster or terrorist attack, we are going to be in trouble. We really need to make sure it doesn’t collapse again.”

The problems followed a busy New Year’s Eve for the ambulance service, which confirmed that 162 people in the capital received treatment during the festivities, with most of the problems alcohol-related.

The service has run into similar problems in the past, with its staff having to rely on pen and paper to note down emergency calls.

One such incident, in June 2011, was caused by a botched software upgrade, and a hardware fault in 2008 caused the service’s call-logging systems to crash and took more than 12 hours to repair.

Read more on Cloud computing services