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Doctors warn failing NHS IT systems ‘undermining’ patient safety

“Failing” IT systems in the NHS are a threat to patient safety. medics have warned.

Doctors and nurses should not “tolerate problems with IT infrastructure as the norm”, according to a new editorial, published in The BMJ.

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

The outage, caused by the July heatwave, led to procedures and appointments being postponed for a number of patients.

The new editorial highlights how IT failures can restrict services as doctors are unable to access records and are prevented from ordering diagnostic tests.

This can “bring a halt to the everyday business of healthcare”, they said.

A recent analysis from the British Medical Association concluded that 27% of NHS clinicians lose more than four hours a week through inefficient IT systems.

The authors of the latest article suggest that the NHS IT infrastructure is “crumbling” and leads to “poor user experiences” as well as patient safety incidents.

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

The authors suggest that investment in IT systems is frequently overlooked as the NHS tries to keep costs down.

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

They called for the Government to provide investment for IT systems in the health service, but in exchange ministers should “demand accountability, with minimum standards for IT function and stability”,

Meanwhile they suggested that the health watchdog – the Care Quality Commission – should examine IT failures as part of its inspection regime.

They conclude: “We must not tolerate problems with IT infrastructure as normal.

“Poorly functioning IT systems are a clear and present threat to patient safety that also limit the potential for future transformative investment in healthcare. Urgent improvement is an NHS priority.”