NHS electronic patient records linked to 100 ‘serious harm’ issues, with ~50% of NHS England trusts reporting patient issues: BBC News

EHR harm is not exclusive to the VA, or the US. An investigation published last week by BBC News uncovered problems with IT systems used by NHS England regional trusts to manage patient records. Through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, it uncovered multiple problems with Electronic Patient Record (EPR) systems that could affect patient care or lead to potential harm. Their investigation found that “IT system failures have been linked to the deaths of three patients and more than 100 instances of serious harm at NHS hospital trusts in England.”

The NHS has spent £900 million over the past two years in pushing trusts to procure EPR systems and to go entirely paperless. The original deadline of end of 2024 has long since been modified to 2026.

Currently, each trust manages its own IT adoption. Teaching hospitals are at the top with the best IT, whether EPRs or operational and clinical systems. Acute care hospitals come next with current systems and infrastructure. The trusts also commission and pay for community and mental health organizations plus general practitioners. They tend to be at the end of the technology chain, without data centers but maybe a computer room. There are lots of variations between trusts, plenty of custom systems, and paper. And as in the US, systems were not necessarily interoperable. (Background courtesy of Rackspace)

The NHS published last November that 90%, or 189, trusts had contracted for and adopted EPRs. EPRs adopted by the trusts include Oracle Cerner, Epic, Meditech, and Dedalus Orbis (replacing the ancient Lorenzo).

What the BBC found through the FOI:

  • 89 trusts confirmed they monitored and logged instances when patients could be harmed as a result of problems with their Electronic Patient Record (EPR) systems. Almost half recorded instances of potential patient harm linked to their systems.
  • Nearly 60 trusts reported IT problems that could affect patient care.
  • There were 126 instances of serious harm linked to IT issues across 31 trusts
  • There were three deaths across two trusts related to EPR problems
  • At the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, more than 2,000 incidents of potential patient harm and three other serious incidents were connected to their new Cerner EPR

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of medical letters went unsent to patients. From the FOI, 200,000 letters were not sent across 21 trusts. Last September, a separate BBC investigation found that 24,000 letters from Newcastle hospitals had not been sent from their EPR system, with more than 400,000 letters lost in computer systems at hospitals in Nottingham.

Separate from the FOI, the BBC report goes into two of the deaths relating to EPR lost information.

  • At Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust, a sickle cell anemia and cerebral palsy patient, Darnell Smith, aged 22, was admitted to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital with cold like symptoms in November 2022. His personal care plan was not easily visible in the hospital’s computerized records. He didn’t get the hourly checks he needed for heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. After the records were found, Mr. Smith was then moved to critical care, put on a ventilator the next morning, and died from pneumonia two weeks later. The coroner in this case warned of a “real risk of further deaths” if care teams couldn’t access needed medical information.
  • At University Hospital of North Durham, Emily Harkleroad collapsed and was taken to A&E, where a pulmonary embolism was diagnosed. However, due to errors in the newly installed Cerner EPR, she didn’t receive the blood thinners she needed and died the morning after admission. The coroner found that the EPR did not clearly identify which patients were the most critically ill and needed to be prioritized, a complaint that clinicians at the hospital had previously expressed.  

Clinicians who came forward to the BBC pointed to EPRs making critical information difficult or impossible to find–it could be “buried anywhere”, creating medication errors, and “incorrect patient details on theatre (sic) lists, incorrect operations listed, incorrect allergy status”. 

Professor Joe McDonald, a former NHS clinical leader, dubbed the current rollout of EPRs across trusts “a broken jigsaw” because very few are interoperable. His conclusion: “There is undoubtedly a culture of cover-up in the NHS and nowhere is that stronger than in the health IT sector. It’s not safe. It’s really not safe.”

BBC News also included a response from Professor Erika Denton, national medical director for transformation at NHS England. She stated that EPRs represent an improvement over paper and patchwork systems and have been shown to improve safety and care for patients. “However, like any system, it’s essential that they are introduced and operated to high standards, and NHS England is working closely with trusts to review any concerns raised and provide additional support and guidance on the safe use of their systems where required.”  Also Daily Mail and Yahoo News Canada (reprint of the BBC News article if blocked).

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