Doctors warn that failing NHS IT systems are ‘compromising’ patient safety

“Faulty” NHS IT systems are a threat to patient safety. doctors warned.

Doctors and nurses shouldn’t “tolerate IT infrastructure issues as the norm”, according to a new editorial in The BMJ.

Experts from Imperial College London and University College London report an incident in which the computer systems of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust – one of the country’s largest hospital trusts – went down outage for 10 days.

The outage, caused by the July heat wave, led to the postponement of procedures and appointments for a number of patients.

Malfunctioning IT systems are a clear and current threat to patient safety, which also limits the potential for future transformative investments in healthcare

The new editorial highlights how computer outages can restrict services because doctors cannot access records and cannot order diagnostic tests.

It can “put a stop to the day-to-day business of health care”, they said.

A recent analysis by the British Medical Association concluded that 27% of NHS clinicians waste more than four hours a week due to inefficient IT systems.

The authors of the latest paper suggest the NHS IT infrastructure is “breaking down” and leading to “poor user experiences” as well as patient safety incidents.

“Increasing digital transformation means that such failures are no longer mere inconveniences, but fundamentally affect our ability to deliver safe and effective care – they lead to patient harm and increased costs,” they wrote.

The authors suggest that investment in IT systems is often overlooked as the NHS tries to cut costs.

“There is a growing disconnect between government messaging promoting a digital future for healthcare (including artificial intelligence) and the lived experience of clinical staff dealing with ongoing IT issues on a daily basis,” the authors added.

They called on the government to invest in the health service’s IT systems, but in return ministers should ‘demand accountability, with minimum standards for IT function and stability’,

In the meantime, they have suggested that the health watchdog – the Care Quality Commission – look into IT failures as part of its inspection regime.

They conclude: “We should not tolerate IT infrastructure problems as usual.

“Misfunctioning IT systems pose a clear and present threat to patient safety, which also limits the potential for future transformative investments in healthcare. Urgent improvement is an NHS priority.

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