The NHS and IT, a match made in hell

The Register has reported that although the new £131m e-Referral system has recovered from the problems which forced it to be taken off line, it has still not resolved its issues. Despite being introduced to increase the autonomy of patients over managing their appointments and to reduce the number of paper referrals the NHS was instead reduced to using fax machines when it broke.

Indeed, The Register claimed that some NHS employees at a referral centre decided to by-pass the system by making referrals directly via emails and fax - even when the system was operational! This response is exactly what the NHS was trying to avoid when they replaced Choose and Book (the previous system), as only half of GPs used it.

The difficulties of the e-Referral system seem to echo the challenges of its predecessor. Few GPs are using it and The Guardian wrote that “many patients and doctors found Choose and Book complicated and time-consuming”. The time-consuming problem seems to have infected the current ‘reformed’ system which takes around four minutes to load and, as a result, IT staff are urging users to download new web browsers in the hopes to reduce the wait to ‘just’ fifty seconds. It is no surprise that problems within the NHS go back even further. The Guardian noted that in 2002, a £12bn project aimed to transfer patient’s records into digital copies was abandoned after it faced numerous setbacks.

As of the 13th July, The Register stated that “currently, the list of service issues stands at 28, in contrast to its list of just four fixed issues” depicting a less than satisfactory rate of resolution, whilst a spokeswomen from the Health and Social Care Information Commission stated in the same article “Of the 28 known issues, 23 of them have a simple workaround”. What the spokeswomen has failed to acknowledge is that it is not enough for a vital network to be relying on ‘workarounds’, especially considering that they should have learnt from their mistakes in Choose and Book system.

The new e-referral system has as many flaws as the last - from falling levels of users to slow and problematic operations, thus wasting the £131m spent on it. The revelation that the NHS cannot keep its IT programmes going for eighteen months without having to take it offline and the rising number of stories like these represent further examples of its ever growing failures and inefficiencies.

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