• System crash meant patients had to attend clinics without their imaging report
  • Board papers said the trust had “plans to give notice” on the contract
  • Trust says patient care was “not compromised” by the system failure

A trust has said it has no plans to pull out of its contract for a troubled radiology information system, shortly after its leaders considered terminating the deal early.

A paper to a meeting of the board of Dartford and Gravesham Trust at the end of last month said “in the longer term the trust plans to give notice on the RIS contract” provided by GE Healthcare.

It said the trust planned, as an alternative, to extend another IT system used at its Queen Mary’s Hospital site, to its main site at Darent Valley. The paper, a report by the quality and safety committee, said: “The business case is scheduled to go to the finance committee.”

However, the trust subsequently told HSJ it did not plan to pull out of the contract.

The system suffered a hardware failure, which saw the radiology information system, which serves all of Kent and Medway, out of service from 28 August to 5 September.

The collapse of the system resulted in a “significant reporting backlog developing”, according to a report to the Dartford and Gravesham board meeting on 29 September.

“This has led to complaints from clinics as patients have attended without their imaging report being available.”

The trust’s actions to cope with a significant backlog included triaging investigations for reporting, allocating additional staff to support reporting and outsourcing reporting.

However, when HSJ asked the trust about its proposal to give notice on the GE Healthcare contract, a spokesman said while the failure of the system “was of great concern to the trust and was discussed at board level”, it will not be “pulling out of the GE contract, which is a Kent and Medway wide agreement”.

The spokesman said “patient care was not compromised, all appointments went ahead and no patients were cancelled”.

“With the RIS unavailable, staff implemented the down time procedure to ensure patients could continue to benefit from the service uninterrupted,” he said. “The remedial work necessary to catch up with the results is contained within the hospital and continues. We are up to date with referrals and requests.”

GE Healthcare’s seven year contract to provide an RIS and a picture archiving and communication system to a consortium of four Kent and Medway trusts, including Dartford and Gravesham, has been suffered repeated problems since it went live in July 2013.

Board papers examined by HSJ show East Kent, Medway, Dartford and Gravesham and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells have experienced a range of difficulties with both their systems, including delays in the ability of the trust to report and book appointments using an electronic system.

The growing backlog of reports increased the risk of “patients not receiving a timely diagnosis or treatment of their clinical condition”, according to a July 2013 entry on East Kent’s November 2014 corporate risk register.

GE Healthcare tried to address ongoing issues by upgrading the systems, but with limited success.

By July 2014 issues with RIS were still ongoing, with the system “not able to provide performance data” or “provide expected functionality” Dartford and Gravesham’s July board papers say. “The trust is engaged with consortium discussions with GE Healthcare.”

By November 2014 a Kent and Medway steering group was scheduling “daily meetings with suppliers and partners to address concerns and implementation delays”, the risk register for East Kent trust said, adding that GE Healthcare had agreed to “compensate for the addition staff costs for the consortium”.

Following the RIS failure in August and September, East Kent again brought in additional staff in to mitigate the impact.

An East Kent spokesman told HSJ the cost of these additional staff was the subject of discussion with GE Healthcare.

A spokeswoman for GE Healthcare said: “At the end of August this year there were problems with the RIS and GE worked very closely with the trusts to resolve the technical issues. The system was back to normal by 5 September.”

She said GE Healthcare had not been notified of any plan by Dartford and Gravesham to give notice on the RIS contract.