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EMIS to remove ‘panic button’ used by GPs in aggressive situations

EMIS to remove ‘panic button’ used by GPs in aggressive situations

IT system supplier EMIS has announced it will remove its ‘panic button’ feature, with GPs fearing this could jeopardise safety amid increasing levels of abuse.

The button is currently displayed in the top right-hand corner of every EMIS Web screen and staff can use it to send an alert to all other PCs that are logged on to EMIS Web.

The feature is also used to alert other members of staff that assistance is required in aggressive situations, including if they feel threatened verbally or physically.

But EMIS said that they had been made aware that certain local network configurations ‘prevent the panic button functionality from operating as designed’ and that following an internal investigation and ‘in-depth technology review,’ a decision was made to remove it for all customers from June.

An EMIS spokesperson said: ‘This decision has not been taken lightly, however, the underlying third-party technology that supports the solution is no longer reliable, and we cannot guarantee its functionality, in part due to individual network settings and ways of working.

‘We expect to begin removing the panic button functionality from EMIS Web in June 2023. We will provide further updates when a date and release version is confirmed.

‘We recommend that practices consider alternative arrangements and there are a number of specialist providers who provide both hardware and software solutions for emergency scenarios.

‘Whilst the panic button is still currently available in EMIS Web, the Service Status on EMIS Now advises that users consider putting a local plan in place for emergency situations. This will remain until the functionality is removed.’

Dr Emma Watts, a GP partner in Guildford, told Pulse that the panic button is being removed at a time that patient aggression is the highest she has ever seen.

She said: ‘I’m not sure how this aligns with the NHS zero tolerance policy. As a rural practice, emergency service back up is likely to be post event information gathering only, and with a practice staffed by mainly older ladies, we are vulnerable anyway.

‘Take away our means for a collective call for help and we are extremely vulnerable.’

Islington GP principal Dr Richard Ma, a research fellow at Imperial College London, said: ‘One of our receptionists had to use that button on Monday. We had to herd the patients to a safer area while the police and I dealt with a disturbed patient. What’s the alternative? Scream for help? Ring a bell? A klaxon?’

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs chief executive Dr Matt Mayer said: ‘Most practices who use EMIS rely on the built in panic button which is part of the system.

‘When you double click it, everyone’s screen in the practice, if they’re logged into EMIS, suddenly turns entirely red with a message saying, for example “Dr X requires urgent assistance in room 6.” Everyone who can then legs it to help.

‘I’ve seen it used several times, for example, if patient collapses so need to do CPR, or if patient aggressive and threatening staff member.’

Dr Lis Galloway, a GP partner in Surrey, said: ‘The decision by EMIS to remove the panic button due to technical issues is just another reflection of how inadequate NHS funded primary care IT is.

‘On the back of recent horrendous levels of systems failures it’s yet another way that life as a GP is becoming unsafe and intolerable.

‘The NHS may not be able to afford outstanding IT, but it should at least be functional and safe. As a practice who puts a much higher value on the safety of our staff and patients, no doubt we’ll be digging into our pockets as partners to find an alternative solution. We can’t and won’t be waiting for an alternative.’

It comes as criminal acts of violence at GP practices reported to the police have almost doubled in the last five years and increased year on year since 2017.

Earlier this year, a GP working at a Derby practice saw its waiting room trashed by a patient and said the incident was ‘not isolated’ as staff are working in an ‘increasingly aggressive’ environment.

And at least three unprovoked attacks took place in practices in Essex and Surrey alone before Christmas.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Julian Spinks 9 March, 2023 12:04 pm

Maybe EMIS should provide a ‘Not fit for purpose’ note.

Douglas Callow 9 March, 2023 12:40 pm

screen messages dont work qrisk going qmas updates non tailorable Weak and wobbly platform destined for US ownership Smell a rat anyone?

nasir hannan 9 March, 2023 2:49 pm

systm1 still has a panic button and so it may be worthwhile considering switching IT supplier if practices are concerned about staff safety.

John O’Malley 9 March, 2023 3:06 pm

Is it just me but I have read their explanation several times and it still does not make sense? If the button is not functioning well all the time, why not fix it?

David Church 9 March, 2023 3:24 pm

Dear John,
EMIS says the panic button uses third party software, and that this is not working as expected in certain networking setups.
This means that it is not actually theirs to fix, as it belongs to someone else and they would not be allowed to;
and the problem is not universal, but is contributed to by the way some surgery networks are set-up on the IT system :
now this varies across each region, and in fact I suspect there are complications relating to remote logins, remote-server-based desktops, and suchlike, that maybe even cause different kinds of malfunction.
Since EMIS does not, and will not, have control over when networking solutions are changed by different localities, each time the LHB/CCG decides to move it’s IT hub, or switch to cloud, it may be better to say ‘this drug sometimes causes rare side effects just like thalidomide, so we will ban it’ rather than ‘we will rely on patients noticing 21 days before getting pregnant, and stopping the drug themselves’.
I have no financial interest in EMIS, have contributed to development via the user group over years, and consider it a pity it is going to a commercial owner, because it is much safer and more functional than many competitors, and should have been secured for public ownership by the NHS.

John O’Malley 9 March, 2023 3:35 pm

That makes more sense, thank you

Richard Greenway 9 March, 2023 6:56 pm

EMIS can and should fix this, and screen messaging. Applications like this will use multiple subroutines, APIs and dependancies which may be designed in house, or paid for under licence, or open source. For example AccuRx declares eight 3rd party dependancies.
Applications (or operating systems) are rarely programmed in -house from machine languge any more.
So whoever programmed screen messaging and the panic button, which use similar local network techniques -can potentially fix this to work under various network configurations. It is for EMIS to ensure that these programs work, and adapt to new networks as these evolve. This will cost money of course. But it isn’t the end user problem to solve.

Krishna Malladi 9 March, 2023 8:53 pm

The panic button and Qrisk actually helps GPs. EMIS is funded by NHSE so GPs aren’t the customers so why should they care?

David Mummery 10 March, 2023 8:03 am

Takes half an hour to login nowadays . A lot of time looking at the buffering signal – often receive ‘instant’ messages the next day

Just Your Average Joe 11 March, 2023 6:49 pm

Easy fix. Add their own panic button to the EMIS system.

Common sense lacking.

paul cundy 13 March, 2023 7:42 am

Dear All,
As with Qrisk2 there are three reasons why EMIS can’t do this.
1) A Data Processor (EMIS) cannot remove a processing function without the Data Controller’s (US via the Practice CCG agreement) agreement.
2) In addition, as others have said this functionality is part of a product purchased by NHSE on our behalf, there is a contractual aspect. It needs to be fixed or replaced. No supplier can suddenly elect to only be providing 90% of its contract.
3) Finally there is the safety aspect, NHSE must not allow a system that protects NHS staff to be removed. Neither should the BMA be standing by idly. Our union should be protecting us.

Paul C