New study suggests yet more NHS 24 issues

NHS Scotland
"We continue to work with our suppliers to ensure the new system will be robustly tested and fully ready for operational use,”

Highly problematic new online system to support Scottish health service may have been launched without sufficient staff training

[Edinburgh, Scotland] The staff using NHS 24 were not properly trained prior to the ‘Future Programme’ IT upgrade rolled out last November, then suspended a few days later.

The service, the Scottish equivalent of the old NHS Direct nurse-based online and call centre helpline, has faced a number of public criticisms of the way a critical technology upgrade was introduced (see our story on its issues here).

But this time, the harsh words are from its own side - as a new NHS 24 internal probe into what went wrong was leaked today to the Scottish press.

Nurses and call handlers did not have enough experience using the technology admits the audit of the new system, which had to be withdrawn 10 days after launch to protect patient safety.

The body also admits it was "high risk" to launch the technology in winter, when the number of patients calling for medical advice begins to rise - but still went ahead in a bid to avoid the "significant double running costs" of running the new system and the one it was replacing in parallel.

That decision rebounded, as six days in service access levels had “fallen dramatically,” staff were struggling “to use the system effectively,” and local NHS bodies in Scotland - its ‘boards’ - were starting to express concerns.”

Some NHS 24 staff had difficulty interpreting the guidance notes for using the software and there were too many “weaknesses" in pre-launch training, resulting in a lack of operational staff's experience of the system, which “significantly reduced staff confidence and may have contributed to increased call handling time”.

‘Robustly tested’

The conclusion is that the new system was not "fully ready for use” on go-live day and that the NHS 24 operational teams were not fully ready to use the system".

But while NHS 24 is planning to relaunch the technology in June with "more comprehensive" staff training, its board was told last week that it should be assumed productivity will halve for the first three months while Future Programme beds down, claims the newspaper running the leak.

"We continue to work with our suppliers to ensure the new system will be robustly tested and fully ready for operational use,” said NHS 24 in a later statement to the paper.