Use of a new, £117 million computer system at Scotland’s NHS 24 was abandoned on Wednesday evening after experiencing significant technical problems the day it went live.
According to the BBC and regional papers, staff at the telephone-based health information and advice service had to use pens and paper for a period to record caller information while the service rebooted its older computer system.
The new platform, developed in partnership with Capgemini and BT, went live during the day on Wednesday and had “worked well”, according to NHS 24, “smoothly” handling hundreds of calls.
However, when GP surgeries shut in the early evening and the 111 phone service, which handles out-of-hours GP calls in Scotland, switched to the new system, callers experienced delays in accessing the service.
The Herald newspaper reports that people ringing the service for urgent medical advice had to wait several minutes before their call was answered.
A statement from NHS 24 said: "Close monitoring, as we moved into the busier out of hours period, alerted us to concerns over IT system stability.
“We took a proactive decision to roll back to the existing technology platform. This was to ensure we retained full control and could absolutely maintain the safety of our services and our patients.
"Our technology teams have worked throughout the night and we have identified the cause of the problem.”
NHS 24 did not say when the new computer system is now likely to be put in place. “We are aiming to have a solution in place and to have our new technology platform fully operational as soon as possible, but will only implement it when we are sure it is safe to do so."
A spokesperson from the Scottish Government said: “The introduction of a new contact management system in an organisation which deals with people’s health care needs, like NHS 24, is a complex operation that needs to be carefully managed with the focus always on safety.
“NHS 24 is liaising with expertise from the suppliers in order to quickly reach a safe and robust solution that can enable the new system to be delivered across all its services as soon as possible. The Scottish Government will remain in close touch with NHS 24 throughout this process."
It is the latest setback in the implementation of the new technology, which was meant to go live in June 2013 but has been pushed backed by more than two years due to several failures and contract negotiations. The project, known as the Future Programme, is now £41.6 million over its original estimated budget of £75.8 million.
These delays and extra costs were brought to public attention by the Auditor General for Scotland, which earlier this month published a damning report into the project. It said that NHS 24 is now at risk of failing to meet its financial targets in future years.
NHS 24 has also come under fire in recent months for its governance of the Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare, which a PricewaterhouseCoopers report described as “largely absent in an effective manner since 2012."