AN emergency review of IT systems used by NHS Scotland has been ordered after hundreds of patients had hospital appointments and cancer treatments cancelled when the country’s largest health board was left crippled by computer failures.
ITNHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde revealed that by lunchtime yesterday 590 appointments had been postponed, including almost 50 for chemotherapy.
Following an emergency question in the Scottish Parliament, health secretary Alex Neil said he had ordered a full review of IT systems across NHS Scotland.
The board apologised to those affected but concerns were raised about how long patients would have to wait for new appointments. The IT meltdown began on Tuesday morning when the servers which connect staff to the network went down, meaning records could not be accessed across ten hospitals in the region. Back-up systems also failed. The fault led to the cancellation of appointments where staff needed access to the electronic records or images such as X-rays.
Despite working overnight, IT specialists failed to resolve the problem leading to further cancelled appointments yesterday.
By lunchtime, 485 outpatient appointments, 14 inpatient procedures, 43 day case operations and 48 chemotherapy treatments had been postponed.
Robert Calderwood, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s chief executive, said: “I apologise unreservedly for the inconvenience this has caused and I will ensure everything possible is done to get treatment carried out at the earliest opportunity.”
Mr Calderwood said that despite the computer problems, 7,400 procedures and appointments had gone ahead. Patients with appointments today were asked to turn up to be assessed, despite the IT problems.
Last night it appeared that the IT system was starting to return to normal.
But patients’ groups raised concerns about the knock-on effects. Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “You could be going for your outpatient appointment for something quite serious and if you are put off for another four weeks, it could have taken nearly three or four months to get this appointment. This could have significant consequences for people.”
Some patients took to Twitter to express their anger. John Greer, from Glasgow, said he had waited six months for his appointment, only for it to be cancelled. He said consultants were left standing around because they could not access records.
“The place was in utter chaos. Can’t believe there is no back-up,” he said. “My situation was not life or death but I’m sure it could be for some.”
In his statement to parliament yesterday, Mr Neil stressed that maternity and emergency services had not been affected. He told MSPs the problem related to network servers. “In addition, the recognised standby process did not kick,” he added.
He said that early indications were that less than 10 per cent of outpatient appointments had been affected, with minimal impact on day cases and inpatients.
Mr Neil told MSPs the problem had now been resolved and users were being reloaded back on to the system. No data appeared to have been lost, he added.
Scottish Labour health spokesman Neil Findlay said the situation was “very worrying”.
He said: “Inevitably, I think, it will involve working longer hours perhaps for a short period of time, extending the hours of appointments in order to make sure everybody affected is treated within a reasonable time.”
Mr Neil said other NHS boards would now be looking at their IT systems, and back-up contingency plans.
Liberal Democrat spokesman Jim Hume urged Mr Neil to confirm specific treatment times for the 48 patients whose chemotherapy was postponed.
“Those patients will want confirmation that they will be treated as a matter of urgency. We need guarantees,” he said.
Scottish Tory Jackson Carlaw added: “We now need to confirm the cause so the problem can be avoided in future.”
Dozens of radiology patients attending Tayside’s main acute hospital had their appointments cancelled due to “priority” issues, it was revealed yesterday.
A total of 40 patients who were due to have CT scans at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee were affected by the problem between last Friday and Tuesday this week.
NHS Tayside has now written to the patients affected by the appointment cancellations to apologise.
The health authority has stressed that the cancellations were not due to any IT problems.
An NHS Tayside spokesman said: “On Friday, 27 September, Clinical Radiology had to cancel at short notice CT outpatient lists due to urgent inpatient activity which took priority. This resulted in 40 cancellations.
“Apology letters have been issued to all patients affected.”