Saturday 24 March 2018

Any patients who may be affected by HSE software glitch 'will be contacted immediately'

  • HSE launch investigation into software glitch
  • Glitch omitted 'less than' symbol from exported copy of thousands of reports
  • Thousands of patients could be affected
  • Revision of cases to be completed by end of August - HSE advisor
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Stock image
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

Any patients that may have been affected by a HSE software glitch will be "contacted immediately", according to the HSE national clinical advisor for acute hospitals.

Thousands of patients nationwide may be affected after a major computer system flaw affected up to 25,000 scans taken since 2011.

According to the Irish Times, thousands of people may need to have their medical tests redone while others may have received unnecessary treatment as a result of the glitch.

At least 25,000 X-rays, MRIs, CTs and ultrasounds taken since 2011 are affected by the error.

The software fault, on the HSE's Nimis (National Integreated Medical Imaging System) system is understood to have omitted the 'less than' symbol from some reports.

HSE national clinical advisor for acute hospitals Dr Colm Henry told RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland that the HSE has launched an investigation into the glitch and any patients affected by the flaw "will be contacted immediately".

Dr Henry explained how the error affected the system, but reassured patients that clinical decisions are not carried out on reports alone.

"It is compiled of a few components, the first which is a radiology information system which is where the report is requested and stored, most clinicians look at it through this," he said.

"Then there is a picture archive, which is another version of the report, not the master version but an exported copy and it was here that was missing the 'less than' symbol.

"It is important to emphasise to listeners and patients that big decisions are never made based on written reports alone. Clinicians in this day and age frequently look at original imaging and discuss the reports before embarking on treatment.

"It was brought to our attention by one of our own consultant radiologists working in one of the hospitals last week."

Dr Henry explained that an example of the error would be the ultrasound of vessels to detect the degree of narrowing of the vessels, the report may be less than 50pc but it will read 50pc on the incorrect report copy.

The HSE has now launched an investigation which will involve revising a large number of scans.

"The first phase is to see if there is any difference between the master copy which is correct and read by most people, and the exported copy," Dr Henry said.

"This will be completed by the end of August, to see if there is any difference there.

"What we do in any such case is assess the clinical risk. We think there is a relatively low clinical risk, however if the percentage is greater than we expect, we will progress to study all cases."

He explained how the error was brought to the HSE's attention and how they subsequently responded.

"The radiologist informed the system providers, then the HSE. Our first response was to inform all radiology departments and hospitals," Dr Henry said.

"Our second response was to fix the error, by working with the software provider, and that error has been fixed.

"The third response was to... commence an investigation so we can identify the correct number of cases where there has been a clinical impact or significance.

"We've put that investigation through now and we're commencing it shortly. We've agreed the terms and methodology.

"We're getting the best advice from medical personnel.

"This system is used in 40 hospitals so this error was disseminated throughout our hospital system."

Dr Henry said the purpose of the investigation is to "identify the exact number of cases" affected by the glitch.

He continued; "That is our first phase of investigation, to compare the master copy against the exported copy used only be some clinicians.

"[Our aim is to] see if there is any clinical impact. We're working with hospitals to see if the missing sign had any clinical significance.

"We place patient safety and interest first in all times of the investigation."

Meanwhile, chairman and co-founder of the Irish Patients’ Association [IPA] Steve McMahon said they are now calling on the HSE to make sure GPs nationwide are equipped with the information to help patients with any concerns.

"We will be spending something in the region of a billion eiro in the next few years on the healthcare system, patients need to know they can have absolute trust," Mr McMahon told Morning Ireland.

"The fact they they are missing a 'less than' sign in the system is raising a whole load of questions for another forum.

"They key thing is to inform patients as soon as possible so they aren't unduly stresses, particularly if any delayed diagnoses have had effects on them."

He added; "Certainly if patients have concerns about a test they may have had, they will be contacting their GP or consultant.

"For a lot of patients, their first port of call will be the family doctors.

"We'd hope that the HSE are making contact with the IMO, the National Association of GPs and making sure that GPs are armed with information."

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health Billy Kelleher called for a full review of the HSE's capacity in technological areas.

"It puts huge pressure on the system again... We need to have a full review on the HSE's capacity in the technological areas to firstly draft contracts for purchase of software, but also to assess software and the implications of because we are moving into the digital era," Mr Kelleher said. have contacted the HSE for any additional advice or information.

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