Two NHS trusts in the Midlands were forced to cancel appointments this week after suffering network issues.
Both University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM) and Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust were hit with problems affecting IT services and clinical systems.
The issues, the source of which is not yet clear, began around midday on 2 July and impacted services across both of the trusts’ sites.
A UHNM spokesperson told Digital Health News that “all digital systems” were affected, including email and internet services, as well as clinical systems including patient records, scans and test results.
Both trusts, which share elements of their IT network, were forced to cancel outpatient appointments across Royal Stoke Hospital, County Hospital, Haywood Hospital and Leek Moorlands Community Hospital.
Some routine elective operations were also postponed “in the interests of patient safety and to ensure sufficient resources were in place to provide additional support to emergency and urgent care”.
Due to network issues at UHNM, certain IT services and telephone lines within the Trust are currently unavailable. This is having an impact on clinical services. All elective procedures and outpatient appointments for today have been cancelled.
— UHNM NHS Trust 🏥 (@UHNM_NHS) July 2, 2019
The network issues had been resolved by 4 July.
Dr John Oxtoby, Medical Director, said: “We would like to apologise to patients who have been affected by issues with our IT systems and telephone lines across both Royal Stoke University and County Hospitals over the last two days. Unfortunately this impacted on clinical care as electronic access to patient notes, scans and results of tests were affected.
“Our teams worked tirelessly with our network provider to identify and resolve the issues and staff across both hospitals have gone above and beyond to keep our patients safe. We are all looking forward to being able to get back to normal.”
UHNM will carry out an investigation into the cause of the problem, but suggested that the reason for failure “may not be known for a number of days.”
The trust noted that its IT infrastructure is “very complex” and consists of more than 10,000 individual pieces of IT equipment.
Dr Oxtoby said the staff were now the process of contacting patients affected by the outages.
“We will now focus our efforts on ensuring that all patients who have missed appointments are contacted and arrangements can be made for them to have their outpatient appointment or elective surgery as soon as possible,” he said.
Please be advised that IT services and telephone lines at Haywood Hospital are also affected. As a result outpatient appointments at Haywood Hospital have been cancelled today. We are in contact with affected patients and apologies for the disruption. https://t.co/stw4JWu3D4
— Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (@mpftnhs) July 2, 2019
The NHS is as prone to IT problems as any other technology-reliant industry, although the prospective risk to patient safety can make for tense scenarios.
Early last year, two NHS health boards in Wales were hit with technical problems following a problem with two NHS data centres. This was eventually put down to a “technical glitch”.
NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) was later scrutinised by National Assembly for Wales’ Public Accounts Committee for its apparent reliance on outdated IT systems.