Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust has apologised to local GPs after ‘a significant number of problems’ with the implementation of its new electronic records system.

The system, provided by US company Epic, has been one of the most closely watched NHS IT projects in recent years. It went live on 26 October.

It is the first time an NHS trust has implemented the well regarded, but relatively expensive US system.

A briefing note sent to GPs, and seen by HSJ, said there had been a “significant number of problems” including delays to emergency care, delays to appointments, and problems with discharge letters, clinical letters and pathology test results.

The note from trust chief executive Keith McNeil said it “acknowledge[d] the disruption caused” by the switch to the new system and “sincerely apologise[d] for the inconvenience and distress we have caused”.

Circulation of the note follows the trust declaring “a major incident” on 1 November when the new system became “unstable” shortly after it went live.

A trust spokesman told HSJ that “90 per cent” of the implementation had been successful and that patients had been put first when dealing with the problems.  

A report by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group’s director of corporate affairs Jessica Bawden laid bare the problems resulting from deployment of the IT system.

The report, discussed at Cambridgeshire County Council’s health committee, said: “On the evening of Saturday 1 November the Epic system became unstable.

“The decision to switch to a read only version of the software was taken at approximately 11.15pm.

“Following expert technical advice and action from suppliers, the system was restored at 2.27am. Business continuity plans were deployed and a ‘major incident’ across the system was declared.”

The trust briefed the Care Quality Commission and Monitor, among others.

The report said there were “significant problems” during the first week of implementation with communicating pathology results with both the new Epic system and the system used by The Pathology Partnership, the newly formed joint venture pathology provider for six trusts in the area, which has a hub at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. 

It continued: “Whilst some problems have been resolved, there are ongoing issues with pathology codes and reporting leading to difficulty matching test results to patients, requiring re-checking.

“GPs were asked to stop all routine blood tests at short notice; patients were attending their GP surgery for blood tests and had to be turned away. Some tests that had already been taken had to be discarded and GPs had to repeat them.

“The trust has apologised to GPs’ patients and The Pathology Partnership has written to GPs giving details of the 200 patients affected.

“The CCG is continuing to monitor the impact the eHospital changes have had on primary care.”

The disruption has also impacted Cambridgeshire Community Services Trust, according to the report.

It said that the community services provider “raised an issue with [the trust] that they usually receive 20 district nursing referrals a day, but during the period from Thursday 30 October to Monday 3 November they had received four”.

The director of the trust overseeing the programme, Carrie Armitage, recently told the EHI Live conference that Epic had “sent over nearly 200 staff to help in the command centre 24/7 and with our floor walkers” to aid the implementation.

A trust spokesman said: “It’s important to recognise that well over 90 per cent of the implementation of eHospital [through the Epic system] on 26 October has gone successfully.

“The majority of the problems highlighted in the CCG report occurred early on and have been addressed, with the systems returning to normal over the last three weeks.

“We have, as always, put the safety of patients first when dealing with these issues.

“We are working very closely with the GPs, the CCG and the council to iron out the remaining problems, and we appreciate their ongoing support.

“eHospital will put us at the forefront of technological change within the healthcare system, implementing a paperless system years before it is mandated by government.”