Staff across four of Greater Manchester’s hospitals say they are struggling to ‘access their patients’ medical records, electronically prescribe medications and reliably see test results’. The concerns come as four hospitals have been hit by major IT failures lasting nearly a week, after problems began on Wednesday, May 18.
Concerned staff say the IT crash has ‘affected every part’ of Royal Oldham, Fairfield General, North Manchester General and Rochdale Infirmary, as ‘patients are turning up for results that cannot be seen’ on computer screens. This afternoon, May 24, the Royal Oldham, Fairfield and Rochdale declared critical incidents as staff continue to wrangle with the outages.
This evening, North Manchester General Hospital has also confirmed it is dealing with a business continuity incident – one step down from a critical incident.
READMORE:BREAKING: ‘Critical incidents’ declared at Oldham, Bury and Rochdale hospitals amid major IT failure
Hospital bosses are warning the public to avoid the Royal Oldham Hospital’s emergency department unless urgent and life-threatening. The hospital’s A&E is one of the worst affected units hit by a slew of IT system problems since Wednesday, trust chiefs have confirmed to the Manchester Evening News. The announcement comes amid waits of ’11 hours’ being reported by patients at the A&E, while sources have warned that the pressure at the hospital may not relent for at least another ’24 to 48 hours’.
The IT failures across the four Greater Manchester hospitals have caused ‘severe delays’ to patient care, according to staff. Multiple hospital sources tell the MEN that systems used to access blood test, X-ray, MRI and CT scan results are not functioning correctly, meaning clinicians are unable to share the information with patients who could have ‘life-threatening’ illnesses.
The IT issues are causing delays with electronic prescribing and getting hold of patients’ medical records. With ‘no access to previous clinic letters on computers’, patients are ‘having to give their own histories’, say staff. Appointments are also understood to be postponed.
Have you been affected by the IT chaos? Call the MEN newsdesk on 0161 211 2920 or email [email protected]
“It’s affected every part of the hospital,” a staff member at one of the affected hospitals, speaking on the condition of anonymity, shared. “CT scans can’t be reported, bloods delayed. Everything delayed. [It’s] causing serious delay to patients.”
A senior hospital source also told the MEN that the continued sweeping outages are putting ‘significant strain on staff and patients’, despite continuity plans which have moved wards from an online setup to a paper system. While the paper system is functional and is ‘working’, typically fast tasks are now taking much longer as ‘everything has to be handwritten’, it is understood.
The ‘real problems accessing results is impacting wards, outpatients and operating theatres’. The ‘inability to reliable see results and the failure of other systems is impacting patient care’, continued the source. ‘Mitigating action’ is being taken to keep patients safe, which hospital bosses say remains their top priority.
The IT system outage has been causing ‘disruption and instability’ to the hospitals’ since Wednesday, May 18, say hospital leaders. Meanwhile, medics tell of ‘long, long waits’ for increasingly ‘unhappy’ patients at each of the hospitals.
Oldham’s emergency department was already ‘really busy’, which has been ‘compounded with IT issues’, prompting trust chiefs to ask the public to ‘think carefully before they attend A&E for minor ailments’. Patients choosing other alternatives, such as their GP or pharmacy if their complaint is not urgent, ‘will help doctors and nurses while the IT issues are ongoing’.
The Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust (NCA) – which operates Fairfield General, the Royal Oldham and Rochdale Infirmary – has declared critical incidents at all three of its hospitals but is still asking patients to come to hospital if they need to, and keep their appointments unless they are contacted to say otherwise.
Before its formal debut last year, the NCA was preceded by Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which also ran North Manchester General.
As Pennine Acute transitioned to become Northern Care Alliance, North Manchester General Hospital switched trusts and is now operated by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT). But the centre’s current IT issues are understood to be due to its remaining connection to Pennine Acute systems.
The hospital will remain on the Pennine Acute IT systems until September, according to another senior source within the Greater Manchester NHS system.
The Northern Care Alliance has issued a statement, saying its digital IT team is continuing to investigate the issues with the relevant technology providers to resolve the problems. A critical incident is a step down from a major incident.
NHS England’s Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response Framework describes a critical incident as “mainly an internal escalation response to increased system pressures/disruption to services that are or will have a detrimental impact on the organization’s ability to deliver safe patient care,” requiring special measures and support from other agencies to restore normal operating functions.
The hospitals are asking for mutual aid, say health chiefs – the system in Greater Manchester which sees patients diverted to other hospitals in the region as the emergency departments attempt to make the demand manageable, while grappling with the IT delays.
North Manchester General Hospital has declared a business continuity incident, MFT has confirmed this evening. This kind of categorization is a step below critical incident.
Dr Chris Brookes, Deputy CEO and Chief Medical Officer for the Northern Care Alliance NHS Trust said: “We are still working hard to resolve the significant IT issues that have been affecting some of our digital systems at our hospitals at Oldham, Bury and Rochdale, as well as North Manchester General Hospital which is run by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. Salford Royal is unaffected.
“This means that our clinical teams are continuing to rely on our robust contingency plans for such critical incidents. Patient safety and maintaining essential services remain our priority.
“We are doing everything we can to fix the IT issues and to limit disruption to patients and our services. However, unfortunately some patients may experience some delays and additional waiting across some of our services such as outpatient appointments, diagnostic tests or scans. We apologize for this.
“All patient records and personal data held by the NHS and Trust remain secure and unaffected. Patients who have a hospital appointment whether for planned surgery or as an outpatient should continue to attend unless they are contacted directly by the Trust and told otherwise.
“Our emergency departments are particularly busy at the moment. For those who feel they need to attend our emergency departments, they are likely to be waiting longer than normal if they have minor ailments. We are asking the public to think carefully before attending. We would, as always, recommend that you contact NHS 111 or seek advice from your local pharmacy or GP.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.