Wednesday, August 03, 2011

UK NHS pulls the plug on its £11bn IT system

You saw it here first. Or, at least well before the pundits admitted this.

I've been predicting this event for quite awhile at this blog (e.g., see posts about the UK NPfIT at this blog query link). From the Independent:

The Independent (UK)

NHS pulls the plug on its £11bn IT system

After nine years and with billions already spent, doomed computer system is abandoned
By Oliver Wright, Whitehall Editor

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A plan to create the world's largest single civilian computer system linking all parts of the National Health Service is to be abandoned by the Government after running up billions of pounds in bills. Ministers are expected to announce next month that they are scrapping a central part of the much-delayed and hugely controversial 10-year National Programme for IT.

Instead, local health trusts and hospitals will be allowed to develop or buy individual computer systems to suit their needs – with a much smaller central server capable of "interrogating" them to provide centralised information on patient care. News of the Government's plans comes as a damning report from a cross-party committee of MPs concludes that the £11.4bn programme had proved "beyond the capacity of the Department of Health to deliver".

[That's a theme in my writings on this blog with respect to the IT community in general. The situation is similar here in the United States. The health IT sector and the hospitals and physician practices who would need to implement this technology do not have the expertise, wisdom and plain common sense to make good on what would be the most massive and complex IT project in the world - ed.]

The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that, while the intention of creating a centralised database of electronic patient records was a "worthwhile aim", a huge amount of money had been wasted. [It could have been used on patient care - ed.]

Note that some of the major players are American:

"The department has been unable to demonstrate what benefits have been delivered from the £2.7bn spent on the project so far," Margaret Hodge, chair of the PAC, said. [See my 'reading list' post for more on this issue - ed.] "It should now urgently review whether it is worth continuing with the remaining elements of the care-records system. The £4.3bn which the department expects to spend might be better used to buy systems that are proven to work, that are good value for money and which deliver demonstrable benefits to the NHS." A further £4.4bn was expected to be spent on other areas of the vast IT project.

The nine-year-old NHS computer project – the biggest civilian IT scheme ever attempted – has been in disarray since it missed its first deadlines in 2007. The project has been beset by changing specifications, technical challenges and clashes with suppliers, which has left it years behind schedule and way over cost.

Accenture, the largest contractor involved, walked out on contracts worth £2bn in 2006, writing off hundreds of millions of pounds in the process. Months earlier, the US supplier IDX, contracted to provide software in and around London, had also withdrawn from the project, making a $450m (£275m) provision against future losses from the two contracts.

The PAC said part of the problem had been weak leadership in the department. "The department could have avoided some of the pitfalls and waste if they had consulted at the start of the process with health professionals," it said.

"We are concerned that, given his significant other responsibilities, [NHS chief executive] David Nicholson has not fully discharged his responsibilities as the senior responsible owner for this project. This has resulted in poor accountability for project performance."

The report also criticises the contracts between the department and suppliers – so far, £1.8bn has been paid.

"One supplier, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), has yet to deliver the bulk of the systems it is contracted to supply and has instead implemented a large number of interim systems as a stopgap," it said.

It should also be mentioned that US HIT supplier Cerner Corp. was a prime supplier of HIT medical device software for this failed project.

Professors at Harvard and Nottingham Medical School have warned that the US is going down the same path as the UK (link).

I predict we'll waste hundreds of billions of dollars before we learn the same lesson. National HIT is a wicked problem, not a tractable one. It is unsolvable by run-of-the-mill bureaucrats, pundits and IT ignorazzi, especially those without clinical experience.

A list of other IT disasters is at the end of the Independent article cited above. It would appear this industry and its pundits/experts are incapable of learning from mistakes, or unwilling to learn.

In the case of HIT, however, people end up being maimed and killed rather directly.

-- SS

Aug.9, 2011 addendum:

An anonymous HC Renewal commenter on August 4, 2011 9:46:00 PM EDT had written: "There are some successes being reported with Cerner:"

In checking that article "Newcastle's clinical implementation of medical software" authored by Sade Laja on Aug. 3, I find this fascinating comment from a Guardian reader (apparently an even more confrontational earlier comment from this Guardian reader had been deleted):


9 August 2011 2:10AM

I am very concerned that you saw fit to delete my last post.

Here it is again edited for any judgements and now contains only facts and questions, my opinion derived from carefully reading your article and from my own experience as a clinician who has tried to work with UK Health IT initiatives.

Could you have asked some more penetrating questions?

Why did you not interview 'ordinary' staff about what they think of the system? Were you unable to?

Where is the verified and peer reviewed evidence of benefit of implementation of the system?

Neither the head of IT and the Director of Pharmacy (unless Mr. (?Dr.) Watson is a medically qualified clinical pharmacist) are strictly speaking clinicians. Why were you not introduced to the masses of excited and supportive senior clinicians backing Cerner at the RVI?

Have you understood the nature of a Cerner contract and the clauses relating to any responsibility the company has for medical accidents that occur when the software is used? Does the contract allow staff to communicate publicly about the performance of the system?

Reading your article carefully it is clear that RVI have implemented Cerner's Patient Administration System (PAS) and the electronic ordering of tests and drugs, but it seems fairly clear there is no electronic patient record, nor the chance of one arriving soon.

If all other methods of ordering drugs and tests have been scrapped then the RVI can easily claim ALL medical staff are using the programme, but strictly that is because they have no alternative.

A 'Big Bang' start up would imply implementing all aspects of Cerner together, but it seems all that all the RVI did initially was start the PAS followed by a 'slow down'. Let me tell you about my own experience of the 'slow down';

The Cerner Millenium interface, in my opinion, is so user unfriendly and so difficult to interrogate that when it was switched on in a District Hospital in the South West of England they has to immediately employ 24 extra clerks to manage the appointments in out patients - which brings into question whether the system automatically leads to increased efficiency and cost savings. As far as I know no Cerner based electronic patient record was ever switched on in that hospital because none available was seen to be fit for purpose. Every Department or specialty had to make its own arrangements for e-health, and there was difficulty in talking to the Cerner PAS both technically and because the UK Dept of Health forbade peripheral systems from being able to talk back to the PAS electronically. So much for avoiding 'siloing' of medical information around the hospital.

If you want to know how Cerner clinical systems perform please read this;

A Critical Essay on the Deployment of an ED Clinical Information System ‐ Systemic Failure or Bad Luck?

Not only does it state how poorly the 'First Net' emergency system from Cerner performs in New South Wales but also that majority of staff loathe it , Prof Patrick also has discovered key flaws in the underlying IT architecture of the core code of Cerner's software.

Furthermore it reports on the nature of Cerner contracts and the way the company seeks to avoid responsibility for incidents and restricts staff from talking about the product.

Two further points - look on the BBC and e-Health Insider web-sites about Cerner costs. Why does a Cerner system in Bath cost nearly three times a System C implementation in Bristol?

And as for Patient safety of e-Health intiatives; there is the ultimate irony of the following report of a failure at UPMC, Cerner's 'home' hospital;

To be fair the problem here was one of staff failing to acknowledge a result, but it may have been exacerbated by the level of usability of the system and certainly having a full e-Health IT record did NOT stop the problem occurring.

[In that article: "But some UPMC doctors have complained that the hospital system's acclaimed electronic records system, designed in coordination with Cerner, an electronic records company, is, at best, cumbersome to use and difficult to adjust for any one doctor's particular needs." What we need to see are the actual screens and context in which these alerts appeared, as I find it hard to believe an entire transplant team could be be negligent or fools. See my 9-part series on mission hostile user interfaces for more on this issue - ed.]

By the way the tide of opinion may be turning about how much health and economic benefit e-Health initiatives are delivering around the world;
"Electronic Records no Panacea for Health Care Industry"

The recent Public Accounts Committee report has amply demonstrated the folly of the NPfIT programme, but unless proper OBJECTIVE evidence of the direct implementation of Cerner systems is provided together with unfettered support from ordinary (ie non-Trust management) NHS staff, I hope you will adopt an approach of scepticism, rather than acceptance of the opinions & oral reports of top-end NHS Trust mangers of the RVI or NHS other hospitals, who have their CEO's, executives and their IT providers to impress.

ps I believe that most NHS Trust Boards are having the wool pulled over their eyes on this issue.

Let's hope this comment stays. I have seen grossly exaggerated PR regarding health IT "success" myself and the themes in this comment resonate with that experience.

-- SS


pillguy said...

Epic anyone?

Anonymous said...

Glad the UK IT Programme is being put out of its misery.

Now, patients may actually receive the care they need.

The EMRs of that UK HIT system, especially the devices made in the USA, became patients, sapping attention and distracting the doctors from the care of their patients.

InformaticsMD said...

Pillguy said:

Epic anyone?

if your comment is serious, you have several graduate courses worth of material to learn before you understand the sociotechnical problems of health IT in 2011.

I suggest starting here.

Reading this and this might also help.

-- SS

InformaticsMD said...

Anonymous August 4, 2011 9:32:00 AM EDT said...

The EMRs of that UK HIT system, especially the devices made in the USA, became patients, sapping attention and distracting the doctors from the care of their patients.

They actually became cybernetic intermediaries and overseers between doctors and patients, impeding medical care. See here and here for how this can occur.

-- SS

Anonymous said...

There are some successes being reported with Cerner:

InformaticsMD said...

There are some successes being reported


Therefore the UK should sell their entire stockpile of gold bullion and immediately invest it in health IT, since there were some "successes", instead of shutting down a massive failed 11+ billion pound program for which they have little to show.

Makes sense to me.

-- SS