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New NHS IT system has ‘failed every nine days’, warns report

The Welsh Assembly public accounts committee has published a stinging rebuke of efforts to modernise NHS IT systems in the country.

A programme to digitise patient records first announced in 2003 is already outdated and ‘worryingly prone to crashing’, a report from the committee warns.

In the first six months of 2018, NHS Wales’ major IT systems went down 21 times.

On average, NHS IT systems across Wales failed once every nine days with the serious incident log stating it had caused an increased risk to patients with GP consultations, creating anxiety for clinicians and patients because patient records could not be accessed as well delays in outpatient appointments, emergency departments and surgery.

The report also points out that the NHS Wales GP application, My Health Online, is not delivering anything like the benefits it set out to achieve.

‘While there are discussions about improving My Health Online, it is hard to see how these will be achieved in a reasonable timeframe without adding to an already full priority list,’ the report says.

Committee members also said they were deeply concerned about the slow pace of delivery in improving IT systems.

Nick Ramsay, AM, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: ‘Our inquiry has raised serious question marks about the competence, capability and capacity across the health system to deliver a digital transformation in Welsh healthcare.’

Responding to the report, RCGP Wales said in addition to the challenges raised by the report, GPs were facing having to move to new IT systems.

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‘It’s also important to remember that many GP practices will soon be having to change the software they use in their practice, following NHS Wales’ tendering process earlier in the year,’ said RCGP Wales joint chair Dr Peter Saul.

‘This will add further disruption to the wider issues the report has identified, and the College is re-iterating its call for the Welsh Government to ensure practices get the support they need.’

Practices in Wales had to choose between Vision or Microtest after EMIS did not have its contract renewed in January.

But by October, practices were being given a chance to reconsider again after it emerged that the version of Vision offered at a series of roadshows would not be ready in time.

Dr Saul added: ‘Quite clearly this report raises some alarming findings about the weaknesses of IT in the Welsh NHS, findings which may look familiar to those working in it.

‘Data outages can be extraordinarily disruptive for practices and for patients. They affect appointments, prescriptions and the nuts and bolts of a functioning practice and can take hours to recover from.

‘Unfortunately these data outages are becoming all too common, leaving GPs scrambling to find solutions or workarounds while waiting rooms fill up.’

‘This report needs to kickstart a process that improves digital technology in the Welsh NHS, supporting and enabling practices to offer improved services for patients.’