NHS 24 withdraws £117m IT system over safety fears

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A multi-million pound IT system for medical helpline NHS 24 has been withdrawn over fears for patienty safety ahead of winter.

The £117m technology, known as Future Programme, has been dogged with problems after coming in more than two years late with a £41m overspend, according to figures from Audit Scotland.

The new system had to be suspended within an hour of its launch on October 29 and staff had to resort to using pen and paper to take calls from patients dialling the 111 helpline out-of-hours matters.

NHS 24 bosses have now withdrawn the system from use over concerns for patient care during the coming winter, and returned to its legacy system.

Ian Crichton, NHS 24 chief executive, said: “Major IT upgrades always bring a degree of challenge, but what makes implementation of our new technology solution unusually difficult is the need to keep patients safe, while we get it fully operational.

“As winter approaches we expect weekend call volumes to significantly increase and our forecast indicates that service levels at weekends would fall below acceptable tolerances.

“It is for this reason that we have taken the decision today to roll back.

“While we will maintain the delivery of safe care to patients, we will continue to develop the new system offline and renew preparations to reintroduce the solution in early 2016.

“This is not a decision that we have taken lightly, given the significant investment to date, but one that will ensure we can continue to deliver vital and safe out of hours support to patients when they need it most during the coming winter.”

MSPs branded the project “a disaster” and called for answers on how things could have gone so wrong.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume MSP said: “Patient safety is paramount and given the problems that have been experienced with the new system this decision is understandable. This fact, however, does not hide the truth which is that this project appears to have been a disaster from the outset.”

Jackie Baillie MSP, Labour public services spokesperson, accused ministers of kicking the project into the long grass.

She added: “This is not the first major IT project to face trouble. The SNP’s short-term, sticking plaster approach to the NHS just isn’t good enough.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison admitted the news was “disappointing” but said NHS 24 was right to prioritise patient safety.

She added: “The Scottish Government will continue working very closely with NHS 24 over the next few months to ensure the outstanding technological issues are fully resolved.

“I’ve been very clear with NHS 24 that they must use this time to work with their suppliers and take all necessary steps to ensure that when the system is introduced early next year, it runs smoothly and realises the benefits expected for patients.”

Patients are still able to call the helpline.