Scotland’s health advice service, NHS 24, has had to withdraw a new, £117 million computer and phone system over patient safety fears as winter pressures approach.
The decision to abandon the Future Programme comes just weeks after the new system crashed on go-live and forced call handlers to use pen and paper to take patient details before the service switched back to its old system.
The service is already over budget by £41.6 million and is more than two years behind schedule, according to a recent report by the Auditor General for Scotland.
In a statement, NHS 24 said that despite a “huge amount of planning, system testing and staff training, "the performance of the service since it launched has “proved extremely challenging."
The organisation’s chief executive Ian Crichton said the decision to move back to NHS 24’s legacy system was influenced by the expected high demand for the service during the winter period.
“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.”
Crichton added that NHS 24 will continue to develop the new system offline with plans to reintroduce the system 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."
Scotland’s health secretary Shona Robison said: “While disappointing, patient safety must always be the number one priority and its right that NHS 24 take the time necessary to understand and fix any outstanding problems completely.
“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.”
The two companies working with NHS 24 to deliver the Future Programme are Capgemini to deliver clinical and patient handling applications and ongoing support and BT to provide the hardware and infrastructure.
The system was originally meant to go live in June 2013, but was pushed back to October and then indefinitely due to a series of contract disputes. These were eventually resolved in June this year.
The BBC quotes Scottish Labour's public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie who said the Scottish government has "short-term, sticking plaster approach to the NHS."
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw is quoted as calling the project "a mismanaged shambles."
Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee, said: “The delay and additional costs associated with this set back are disappointing. Competent triaging of patients is critical to the efficient working of out of hours care and NHS 24 must make the necessary provisions to be confident that this is in place.”