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Hospital boss lambasts NHS e-records system

The NHS patient records system has been heavily slated by the head of one of London's busiest hospitals for causing "heartache and hard work".

Andrew Way, chief executive of the Royal Free Hospital, said technical problems with the NHS patient records system had not only left a £10 million gap in finances, but it takes staff four times long to book than previously.

Royal Free is one of a number of early adopters of the system, which will be rolled out to all hospitals nationally under the £12.7 billion National Programme for IT (NPfIT). The IT programme aims to put 50 million patient records on a secure database by 2014.

The patient records system, which is restricted to England, has been one of the most troubled parts of 10-year IT programme, which also involves an online booking system, digital imaging for X-rays and electronic prescriptions.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Way revealed Royal Free staff's frustration with the new computer system.

Way said the system kept crashing, and said using the system has given him "some of the toughest days of his 32-year career".

It has take a taken a lot of time and extra staff for the London hospital to get the system running, which resulted in the £10 million in extra costs.

"About £4 million was in additional expenditure over and above the project plan we already had in place," said Way.

"And £6 million was in incomes losses, either because we haven't put enough detail in the system to bill primary care trust for the level of activity undertaken, or because the system so poorly implemented we haven't been able to put patients in front of doctors and nurses."

What's more, the system did not fit the requirements of Royal Free and said the system could not be customised to suit the needs of individual hospitals.

Nigel Edwards, director of policy of the NHS Confederation, which represents most health service organisations, said lessons should be learned. "This isn't the first hospital to have very significant problems with implementation."

Edwards agreed with Way: "Hospitals need to be able to tailor what they have got to their needs, rather than being given this one-size-fits-all solution."

Early adopter hospitals have also been hit with unexpected costs. According to Edwards, hospitals have to put at least as much money into training and developing the organisation to be ready for it as you do for "the boxes, wires and software".

Training costs were "ignored" when budgets were set. "That's why so much money has to be found by these local hospitals, which they've not necessarily always budgeted for."

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