Friday 15 December 2017

'Two-month wait' for patients to see if they are hit by HSE glitch

The HSE last night said that the first phase of the internal investigation would be completed by the end of August. Stock photo
The HSE last night said that the first phase of the internal investigation would be completed by the end of August. Stock photo

Cormac McQuinn and Laura Larkin

Patients face an anxious wait of up to two months to find out if they have been affected by a HSE software glitch that could see thousands needing new scans and tests.

A serious incident management team is reviewing a 10pc sample of as many as 25,000 scans - including MRIs and ultrasounds - carried out since 2011 that may be impacted by a software fault.

Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly last night branded the standard of IT in the health service as a "disgrace" and predicted the latest issue would not be the last.

The software glitch was spotted by a consultant radiologist last week. The HSE's ­National Integrated Medical ­Imaging System (Nimis) ­software ­omitted the 'less than' symbol in reports when they were being archived. For example, if an artery was recorded as narrowing by 'less than 50pc', the file would have wrongly said the narrowing was 50pc.

The HSE's national clinical adviser, Dr Colm Henry, took to the airwaves in a bid to reassure patients. He said that the HSE's primary concern was to ensure no patients were harmed and to identify any who received inappropriate treatment.

The HSE has stressed that the expert advice was that there was "a relatively low clinical risk to patients" and Dr Henry emphasised that decisions about their care were never based on written reports alone.

He said that doctors looked at the original imaging before embarking on treatment.

The HSE last night said that the first phase of the internal investigation would be completed by the end of August.

A statement said that depending on the outcome of this initial investigation, further analyses would be required to establish "whether the discrepancy has clinical implications", and this would take a further month.

If concerns arise during that investigation, patients will be contacted and referred to "the relevant clinical setting".

The HSE advised anyone with concerns in the meantime to contact their doctor.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher told RTÉ Radio there should be a full review of the HSE's IT capacities and spoke of the need for increased funding.

He said it was important not to be "alarmist" about the implications of the latest software glitch, but raised concerns some patients may have suffered adverse consequences from getting treatment they did not need, adding that the issue was "just another example" of IT problems in the health service.

He said he raised the issue of funding for eHealth technology with minister Simon Harris at a Future of Healthcare Committee meeting earlier this year.

The Committee's Sláintecare report suggests that eHealth initiatives should be funded to the tune of €875m up to 2030.

The Department of Health said additional IT funding was being considered in the Government's upcoming review of capital spending.

It also said such funding has been "steadily increasing", including allocations of €176m for eHealth this year.

The HSE responded to Mr Kelly's criticisms, insisting it had made "significant inroads" in IT and the need for investment was "well-documented".

It pointed to success delivering the Individual Health Identifier and Maternity Electronic Health Record, among other measures, and pointed out the creation of the office of the chief information officer (CIO).

It emerged last night that current CIO Richard Corbridge is to leave the role in November to take up a job in the UK. The HSE said the decision was not linked to the software glitch.

Five 'technical problems' with HSE IT systems

1 The failed PPARS (Personnel, Payroll and Related Systems) project was a personnel and payroll system built for the HSE that could only handle a fraction of the organisation’s HR needs. Its roll-out was stopped by the HSE in 2005 as costs spiralled and it is estimated to have ended up costing €220m.

2 An August 2014 breakdown in a server that covered five hospitals in the south – including Cork University Hospital – caused delays in accessing patient files as doctors were forced to retrieve hand-written records.

3 The HSE’s medical card website was down for a number of days in August 2016. Doctors couldn’t check if new patients were covered and emergency applications were facilitated by phone.

4 The IT infrastructure of the Saolta University Health Care Group in the west broke down last March, leading to outpatient appointments being postponed. Phone lines failed for a time and wi-fi was also hit. Most services were restored relatively quickly.

5 The HSE shut down its email system in May this year as a precaution against the WannaCry ransomware virus attacks that hit Britain’s NHS and led to operations being cancelled. It rebooted its 1,200 servers to allow an anti-virus update to take effect. Disruption to patients was said to be minimal as contingency plans were in place.

Irish Independent

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