• EMRAD imaging system still not functioning as required
  • GE Healthcare system and trust infrastructure both need improving
  • Consortium is withholding “a reasonable sum” from GE Healthcare

A consortium of NHS trusts is withholding money from GE Healthcare because a multimillion pound imaging system is still not working properly.

Tim Taylor, medical director for the East Midlands radiology consortium, said “all options were on the table” in relation to the £30m, 10 year contract with GE Healthcare, which was signed in 2014.

However, Dr Taylor said the problems with the vanguard project were not solely the fault of GE Healthcare’s system and the NHS’s IT infrastructure was also not up to the job.

He said: “The product couldn’t match what we needed it to do and it still can’t. Equally, what we expected it to do and what we gave the supplier to work with couldn’t match what they needed.

“We wanted a Ferrari, we thought we were getting a Ferrari, but we ended up getting a Ford Fiesta. But in return we promised the supplier the Nürburgring and we gave them the M25.”

Last year, HSJ revealed widespread concern over the performance of the EMRAD system, which frequently crashed leaving clinicians unable to see or share patient scans. In at least one case in Leicester, images were saved to a CD and sent by taxi to Nottingham.

As a result of continued “day to day” problems, University Hospitals of Leicester Trust announced in October it would withdraw from the consortium and seek an alternative system.

Dr Taylor said the original vision of trusts working together to share images and improve patient care was still “the right thing to do” but he accepted the technical solutions needed more work.

He said one of the features of the consortium was each trust had to have control over its own information governance and processes. As a result, the EMRAD system works via a GE Healthcare interface across each trust and a central database.

He continued: “Depending on where you are and depending in some places on the time of day that causes issues. When it went live in Nottingham in December 2016, after a period of very intensive testing, it crashed pretty much the whole time. It was trying to cope with a system that we hadn’t appropriately specified.

“As a group… we are not paying our full contract costs as everyone would completely reasonably expect. We are withholding a reasonable sum.”

The trusts in the consortium are:

  • Chesterfield Royal Hospital Foundation Trust;
  • Sherwood Forest Hospitals FT;
  • Nottingham University Hospitals Trust;
  • United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust;
  • Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Northampton General Hospital Trust;
  • Kettering General Hospital Trust; and
  • Burton Hospitals FT.

Dr Taylor stressed the consortium and GE Healthcare are not in a legal dispute as that “serves no one other than the lawyers”. He added: “I am reasonably satisfied that GE has committed and delivered against a roadmap for improvement. There are key elements to the technical solution that have been fixed, there are key elements of the way organisations work that is our responsibility to fix.

“I am comfortable that GE is doing as much as it can, I am comfortable the organisations in EMRAD as a consortium are doing as much as they can.”

The consortium could withdraw from the contract but Dr Taylor said: “It’s not a threat, it is something that we could of course do. All options are open and they remain open and GE knows that.”

Asked whether patients came to harm because of the issues, Dr Taylor said the system problems had caused delays but trusts “have reported no recorded incidents of major or significant harm that can be directly attributed to the GE technical system and/or deployment”.