NHS Connecting for Health, the health service’s IT agency, has revealed that the number of severe faults in NHS computer systems has doubled over the past three years.

Last year nationwide NHS computer systems suffered 820 severity-one or critical faults with national applications, provided by National Application Service Providers (NASPs) the majority relating to the N3 network. In 2006 the figure stood at 488.

According to the Department of Health over 91% of NASP severity one incidents relate to the NHS national broadband network (N3).

NHS CfH defines a severity one NASP fault as a problem affecting a system critical to patient care or affecting 5,000 NHS computer users or more. In addition the service suffered 1,850 severity two failures in 2008.

Figures for severe reported faults with local service provider (LSP) systems have meanwhile declined from 349 in 2006 to 262 in 2008. The number of level two LSP faults has remained at around the 1100 mark for each of the past three years.

The DH said that the figures related to reported problems and were not a reflection of system performance. “In practice and after investigation, many incidents are found to be local hardware, software or infrastructure problems, or they are re-categorised with the agreement of the user”.

The figures were revealed in a written parliamentary answer to Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb.

In part the increased number of NASP faults is likely to relate to wider user of enterprise-wide IT systems within the NHS, as a result of the roll-out of parts of the £12.7bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT). Better reporting mechanisms, with specified service levels in contracts, may also be a factor.

In October 2008 the number of critical faults in national IT systems jumped to 165, from 71 the previous month — a spike CfH attributed to "a set of issues affecting two systems". 

According to a ZDNet report the agency said the two unspecified problems had a "noticeable effect" on a number of NHS computer users.