Conservative MP Richard Bacon has called for a halt to all Cerner Millennium deployments following appointment problems and delays at the latest trusts to go-live with the system – North Bristol and Oxford.
Bacon, who has followed the progress of the National Programme for IT in the NHS for many years, said the two hospitals had been “brought to their knees” by the implementation of the new electronic patient record system.
“These deployments need to be stopped until we are sure that they can be managed safely,” he said; adding that the system should be "switched off" if it was not working for patients.
North Bristol NHS Trust and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust said they are working through some deployment issues, but denied that patient safety has been compromised.
However, Oxford University Hospitals told eHealth Insider that it has had to bring in extra staff to help it overcome some “temporary problems while the new system beds in.”
Bacon said local news reports indicated that the trust was having serious difficulties booking patients in for treatment.
The Oxford Mail has reported that problems were so bad before Christmas that the trust had to suspend its parking charges as clinics over-ran by hours.
But an Oxford University Hospitals spokesman said the level of disruption was anticipated with a project on this the scale of the Cerner implementation; and that it had planned the suspension of the parking charges.
He said the changeover to an electronic patient record was one of the largest operational changes the trust had undertaken for a considerable time.
“We acknowledge that some patients have suffered inconvenience and found it more difficult to book appointments whilst our staff become familiar with the system,” he said.
The trust is providing training, additional resources and support to help staff “get up to speed with the new IT system.”
It is also putting in place additional staff to help it “get over” the temporary problems, he added, insisting there would eventually be “many benefits” for patients.
North Bristol NHS Trust told eHealth Insider last week that “unexpected problems” following the go-live of Cerner Millennium had led to patients being booked into non-existent clinics or not told about scheduled operations.
In a regional BBC report, anonymous clinicians called the implementation a “complete shambles”. However, trust director of IM&T, Martin Bell, said patient safety had not been put at risk.
Bacon, who was instrumental in triggering last year’s National Audit Office and Commons’ public accounts committee inquiries into the programme, said the NHS should never have been locked into buying software that was “unreliable” and “unreasonably expensive."
“Effective, affordable and robust IT systems are vital to the future of the NHS, but it is clear that the fiasco that is the national programme cannot deliver them,” he said this morning.
He called for “a halt” to new Cerner Millennium deployments, including that at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which is being undertaken by BT as the local service provider for London, and that at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, which went outside the national programme more than two years ago.
In a statement to EHI, Cerner vice president and UK managing director Alan Fowles said trusts were using Millennium to drive change and optimise services and processes which would “realise benefits over time.”
“We work in partnership with the NHS to ensure that any disruptions or problems during deployments are resolved as quickly as possible,” he said.
“Patient safety is always taken extremely seriously and together with our NHS clients we put extensive risk management measures in place when conducting any deployment.”
Fowles said he had invited Bacon to engage with Cerner “in order to understand the complexities of healthcare informatics deployment and the methodology used to ensure success.”
A spokesperson for BT, which won a contract to deploy Cerner Millennium to North Bristol, Oxford and one other ‘greenfield’ site in the South in 2010, said: "Patient safety is of paramount importance to BT in all of its work with the NHS.
"At our two most recent deployments at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and North Bristol NHS Trust, there is no evidence of any risk to patient safety – something which both trusts have acknowledged.
BT is managing Cerner Millennium at 19 NHS trusts across London and the South of England, serving over 100,000 NHS users, and will continue to work with them to deliver the benefits these systems bring to staff and patients alike."