Trusts across England were forced to switch off their connection to the Personal Demographics Service, after a weekend upgrade led to the system suffering from ‘intermittent problems’ leading some to stop using their electronic record systems.

The weekend upgrade, called Spine release 2008-A, was a major upgrade to the Spine PDS service.  The PDS is the national NHS spine service, which forms the core of the NHS Care Records Service – underpinning basic patient administration and the creation of electronic care records.

An NHS Connecting for Health spokesperson said the Spine was upgraded over the weekend of 30 May – 1 June, with a number of problems identified and fixed over the weekend.  However on Monday morning further issues arose with the PDS. "These problems were investigated by NHS CFH and BT, the supplier of the Spine service, and have now also been resolved."  

Several trusts today told E-Health Insider the upgrade led to a series of glitches, which made using patient administration systems – supplied as the first stage of a CRS – difficult to use over the weekend. Some trusts have had to switch off patient record systems as a result.

Three NHS trusts in the North Midlands and Eastern Programme for IT, live with the iSoft iPM patient administration system, said the system proved difficult to use during the upgrade, and they were forced to switch it off until they received assurances from NHS Connecting for Health it was ‘fit for purpose.’

One IT director at an NME trust, told EHI: “We, along with other “tactical systems” sites, have suffered from a host of intermittent problems during the upgrade this weekend. We are unable to easily create electronic patient records, which is slowing us down, and so we have advised CfH that we will resume using the system, only once the upgrade is deemed to be working.”

A clinical databases manager at another NME trust, told EHI: “It is extremely difficult working without the PDS, but most of us in the iSoft tactical group strongly believe that the problems we have experienced since the upgrade must be corrected before we can switch anything back on again.

“As the national data store for the NHS, it is essential that we are confident it is safe to use, at the moment that’s a little difficult for us to say. It has big repercussions not being online as we can’t easily create records and we can’t use Choose and Book. CfH are aware and hopefully we can switch back online soon.”

“PDS and CRS connectivity has been very slow, and not an awful amount of trusts are using it, so the situation isn’t so bad at the moment. However, what this upgrade demonstrates is that as each release is added to the system, there needs to be a lot more testing with NHS sites to ensure that they can use it, and it won’t affect day-to-day operations within busy trusts,” said one IT helpdesk manager in the NME region.

It is anticipated that eventually the PDS will replace existing demographic services, but one trust said this remains some way off.

The national patient demographic service also supports other key programme of the National Programme for IT, such as Choose and Book and the Electronic Prescription Service, each of them using the Spine’s messaging capabilities as part of their own services.