NHS computer glitches: dire threat to patient safety

In a startling revelation by BBC News, the NHS’s struggle with IT system failures has been linked to patient deaths and over a hundred cases of serious harm.  The investigation, spurred by Freedom of Information requests, uncovered that 200,000 medical letters failed to reach their destination due to these pervasive computer issues.

The ambition to digitize patient records and create a paperless NHS in England is a noble one, aimed at seamless access to health information across GPs, hospitals, and care homes. Yet, the journey has been marred by setbacks and delays, with the current target year pushed to 2026.

Despite hefty investments in electronic patient record (EPR) systems, many hospitals are grappling with significant operational challenges. The tragic case of 22-year-old Darnell Smith, whose specific care needs were not easily to hand in the hospital's IT system, underscores the fatal consequences of such technological oversights.

The BBC's findings are a wake-up call, highlighting nearly 60 Trusts reporting IT-related patient care issues, and three deaths directly linked to EPR system problems. The Royal College of GPs expressed alarm, emphasizing the urgency of rectifying these issues to safeguard lives.

Echoes of the Horizon scandal at the Post Office are resonant, with it being reported that a culture of concealment is seemingly prevalent within the NHS's health IT sector. The need for interoperable systems that facilitate information sharing remains a critical challenge.

The heart-wrenching story of Emily Harkleroad, who succumbed to a pulmonary embolism due to delayed treatment, further illustrates the dire consequences of inadequate IT systems. With over 2,000 incidents of potential harm at the Durham Trust alone being reported, the situation is a ticking time bomb.

As the NHS and software suppliers face scrutiny, the imperative for reliable, clinician-informed technology that prioritizes patient safety has never been clearer. The NHS's commitment to improving and supporting these systems is a step in the right direction, but the path ahead is fraught with the need for vigilance and swift action.

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If you are concerned about care you or a loved one has received, please contact Jane Williams, Partner who heads our specialist clinical negligence teams of solicitors in Leicester and Nottingham, for an informal discussion:

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