Hospital IT crash forces re-check of blood tests

No figure is available for the number of lab tests hit by the IT failure but it is understood to run to several hundred samples.

Ralph Riegel

Hundreds of blood tests will have to be re-checked and possibly performed again after a key IT system crashed at a leading hospital.

While the majority of the samples involve routine screenings at Cork University Hospital, a number are understood to involve tests for potentially serious conditions such as blood disorders and cancers.

No figure is yet available for the number of lab tests hit by the IT failure, but it is understood to run to several hundred samples.

But GPs confirmed they have been told to send only emergency blood work to the hospital for manual checking.

The ageing system has been causing problems over recent months but the crash on August 16 was the most severe experienced to date.

It not only resulted in the entire system becoming inoperable but also hit critical back-up storage files.

The IT failure sparked major delays to virtually all blood diagnostic services at the hospital.

A core part of the IT system stopped working on August 16 leaving CUH lab technicians unable to access key blood test data results. It left technicians entirely reliant on manual testing and cross-referencing.

Efforts to re-boot the centralised computer system were frustrated as back-up data, which should have allowed for a full and clean network restart, had become corrupted and damaged.

This is what may force precautionary re-checks and potentially new sample testing.

Some critical tests have been conducted on a manual basis, but routine work has effectively been delayed by a week or more.

Cork GPs have now been asked to hold back all routine blood work requests until next week to allow the backlog to be cleared. Sources stressed that all priority blood work has been handled via support systems and outside labs.

The system was restored to full operational status yesterday but there is concern that corrupted data may ultimately prove unreliable.

IT systems staff have been working around the clock on the network for the past fortnight but the scale of the problem is the worst ever experienced by the HSE South.

It is understood that there have been four different problems with the lab's IT system over the past 18 months but none as serious as that which struck on August 16.

The HSE had applied for funding to replace the entire IT system for the hospital's labs but replacing the existing system will take some time.

The impact of the problem was exacerbated by the fact that CUH, the lead hospital in a network of HSE facilities in the south-west, operates a highly centralised IT system for pathology tests.

The failure of the system also hit Kerry, Mallow and Bantry General Hospitals and the blood transfusion lab at the Mercy University Hospital.

A full review of the matter will now be conducted by the HSE.

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher expressed deep concern over the matter.

"The question has to be asked, from a patient safety point of view, what is an IT system that is so critical to the operation of some of our biggest hospitals still doing in service if it cannot be absolutely relied upon," he said.