Your shout: On the implementation of NHS smartcards

Readers put their point of view

YOUR SHOUT_150X150Readers put their point of view

In response to the article “NHS smartcard registration will erode time available for patients” (Computer Weekly, 17 May). In his letter about the NHS smartcard article David Best seems to have missed the point.

Although the calculation for initial registration of users of the system is estimated at between 12 and 20 minutes, aggregated across all of the NHS, this actually turns out to be a lot of time overall and a significant cost to the NHS. At a large surgery there may easily be more than 10 members of staff who require access to records.

However, I agree that this is a drop in the ocean compared to the potential lost time spent logging in to the system for
users. The “first time” log-in idea obviously comes from someone that is used to having exclusive and continuous access to a PC.
In most cases, however, staff in a surgery would have to share computers and would be expected to log out when not actively using the system, otherwise the whole point of having security procedures would be undermined.

Therefore, this 40 seconds would quickly ramp up during the day to quite a considerable amount of time, not to mention the aggravation caused to NHS professionals, who are already short on time, having to wait to access the system each time. This is in light of the hope that doctors and nurses would use the system themselves rather than rely on admin staff for all their IT requirements.

A good analogy to this situation could be a modern bar, where staff use a “key” to identify themselves to the cash register when they wish to use it. Imagine having to wait for nearly a minute to get your change in a busy bar because the staff had to wait for the cash register, not to mention the queue of staff waiting behind them.

In the modern IT world, waiting like this is unacceptable and will generate further resentment for a system that is already under fire from other angles.

Ralph Little
Database programmer and department head, Tribal Technology


On the subject of NHS smartcards for GPs, the cards may be smart but the simple-minded numpties who thought that applying business practices to the health service was going to be a walk in the park should have asked a couple of us GPs before straying this far.

Last October, at a presentation on the national programme for IT in the NHS, I was informed politely by our local service provider, “We want GPs to feel pain if they lose their smartcards.” I pointed out that it was not the doctors that would be feeling the pain but the patients piling up in the waiting room while our local smartcard genie dug out his digital camera and drove the one hour from the primary care trust to my surgery.

Like many women, I have got a dozen handbags where credit cards hibernate, so short of having my smartcard permanently dangling around my neck instead of a stethoscope, I will be sticking it to the side of my computer, as will my GP partners, one of whom cannot even use a mobile phone.

If we are to have these damn things, which I know will be distributed freely while GPs are out on their visits, then why not have a single smartcard reader at the entrance to each of our surgeries?

And while we are on the subject, my practice said “yes please” to the smartcard reader etc recently, then rang the smartcard wizard to ask if we could save him a bit of time by sending him our digital photos. “Not possible,” came the reply because he had no idea how to use a photo attachment and put it onto a card; and, more bizarrely, he had to be sent on a course to learn how to use a digital camera before he could get snapping.

Pinning jelly to the wall is easier than ensnaring a doctor, so how is this chap supposed to get around the 300 permanent GPs in Oxfordshire, let alone all the locums, temp staff, leavers etc? The whole thing is bonkers. He did say he might have an answer for me by the summer: dream on.

Lisa Silver


Dealing sensibly with copyright infringement

After reading Peter Sommer’s opinion “Cybercrime fight under-funded as millions ‘wasted’ on software piracy convictions” (Computer Weekly, 17 May), I want to congratulate him on an excellent article.

Most discussion on law enforcement agencies’ role in cases of copyright infringement tends to be ideological, ie pro-copyright versus anti-copyright. It was refreshing to read an article that takes a new approach to the issue.

The rise of phishing and other cyber attacks that affect both individuals and corporations shows which areas should be concentrated on by law enforcement. Attacks of this nature tend to be international and can only be combated by close co-operation between international government agencies, as Sommer mentioned.

Copyright infringement is not one of these issues and until recently it was treated as a purely civil offence, for which the injured party could sue in a civil court for redress. Civil suits of course require that the plaintiff covers their legal costs, while criminal cases are paid for by the state. I am sure this has been a primary objective in the recent attempts at criminalisation of copyright infringement in the UK and US.

I also think law enforcement agencies may be tempted to go for the cases that can be used as a PR exercise “win”, rather than those that are causing significant damage and distress, ie phishing.

Andy Ross


True cost to the taxpayer of software piracy

I read with concern Peter Sommer’s article on the DrinkorDie software piracy group (Computer Weekly, 17 May), which questioned whether the cost of the investigation and the charges placed on the men were worth the millions spent.

Given Sommer’s concerns about wasting taxpayers’ money, I think he would be interested to learn that a relatively minor reduction in illegal software use from 27% to 17% would create 40,000 extra jobs and contribute £2bn to UK tax revenue, according to Business Software Alliance figures.

This case may have been an expensive conviction, but it was important to make an example of these men to deter others from following suit, in order to help to reduce the amount of tax lost through software piracy. In principle, it is no different to going into a high street store
and walking out with a software CD stuffed up your jumper.

Software piracy is illegal, as is any form of theft, and taxpayers’ money is never “wasted” on convicting anyone who breaks the criminal law.

John Lovelock
Director general, Federation Against Software Theft


Blade cooling problems often due to bad set-up

I read with interest “Blade datacentres demand cooling and power distribution rethink” (Computer Weekly, 24 May).

Many IT people fail to understand that blades produce more heat and require more cooling because they are usually deployed in twice the density of their rack-mounted counterparts.

The article highlighted that suppliers are addressing this with new cooling technology. However, many of the cooling problems are caused by blade racks not being set up properly, deployed too closely or implemented poorly.

If IT directors follow basic best practices, they will be able to reap the full benefits of blades. This will not solve all the cooling issues, but it will help prevent a lot of them.

Iain Davie
Business development director, Morse


Why we must consider alternative ways to vote

Dougald Tidswell (Letters, 24 May) outlines his scepticism about SMS voting, but alternatives to paper-based ballots must be considered.

The Electoral Commission report, Securing the Vote, proposed that multi-channel voting, including telephone and internet, may eventually replace the paper-based system. This commitment is encouraging, with televoting being the most obvious alternative. It is a class-agnostic communication tool and, crucially, people are already comfortable using the telephone for secure financial and local government-related transactions.

Televoting could allow voters to use existing touch-tone telephones. As with telephone banking, the security would lie in combining fragments of personal information that distinguish genuine from false voters and yet hide the identity of the caller from the election organisers. The system could use a Pin already known to the voter (such as their national insurance number and their electoral register number), who would enter only fragments of it.

Research from Nottingham Trent University found that this security method would provide odds of six billion to one against fraud. Voter apathy needs to be tackled and the telephone is the logical, safe and secure solution.

Paul Renucci
Managing director, Damovo UK


Recruitment agencies need to learn the market

I wholeheartedly agree with David Lambert in his assessment of the recruitment market (Computer Weekly, 10 May). I have frequently used agencies for both recruiting and job hunting and I often wonder in whose interests some are acting.

I should not be surprised if they act in the interest of recruiters rather than job hunters, as they are their paying customers. But even as the paying customer, I would often receive CVs from agencies that did not even meet the basic requirements I had provided. Moreover, job hunters are treated as commodities, whose own requirements are ignored by agencies so their CVs can be submitted to recruiters.

As a job hunter, I have often found myself talking to agents who clearly have no clue about the IT industry, typical roles and common skills, which would further explain why they rely on databases and keyword searches to select suitable candidates.

Agencies simply have not grasped the basic concepts of identifying customers’ needs and aiming to meet or exceed them. I don’t know of another market where suppliers do not know what their customers want or what they are supplying.

David Newman
Project manager


Read more on IT for government and public sector