A trust has had two months of disruption after an upgrade to its patient administration system which led to patients waiting longer, a rise in “did not attends” and temporary staff being employed to type letters.

Royal Surrey County Hospital Foundation Trust was forced to declare a business continuity incident and revert to paper-based systems in late November, when it upgraded its Allscripts system. The problems persisted with “slowness, drop outs and freezing,” according to its January board papers. The trust is only now removing a message on its telephone system warning patients about the disruption.

A performance report to the board in January said that since going live on 28 November there have been “numerous periods of system instability and at times total inaccessibility”.

During these times the trust deployed measures, with staff tracking patients on paper and entering data onto the PAS retrospectively. “Productivity of teams due to instability of the system was significantly impacted”, the papers said.

The wide-ranging effects of the problems included:

  • Employing extra staff and offering additional bank shifts to ensure letters were typed and patients were contacted by phone. The trust said it was meeting its standard of sending letters to GPs within five days after a hospital appointment.
  • Not being able to validate waiting times and pathways. The trust has had to employ three additional validators to help with this work.
  • The trust’s referral-to-treatment performance declined to 91.7 per cent in December – partly because some aspects of reporting have taken longer. Some patients have had to wait longer for appointments, the trust confirmed, although urgent patients have been prioritised.
  • The trust stopped sending text messages to patients about their appointments. The “did not attend” rate increased to as high as 11 per cent but has now fallen back to 8.6 per cent – still higher than normal.

Andy Carne, chief information officer said: “A lot of detailed planning was in place before the system upgrade went live at the end of November so we were disappointed it didn’t go as smoothly as anticipated. As soon as it became evident that we had an issue with the system we immediately put in place our paper-based process for a short period of time, alongside our electronic system.

“We have been able to report our performance as normal throughout the period and we’d like to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of our frontline staff who worked incredibly hard throughout this period to minimise any disruption to patients.”

A trust spokesman said the organisation is still investigating the potential financial impact.

When asked if it was considering action against the PAS supplier Allscripts, the spokesman said: “We have worked closely with Allscripts to resolve the issue and continue to work in partnership with them. It is in the interest of both the trust and Allscripts to move through the recovery process as swiftly as possible.” 

An Allscripts spokesman said: “Allscripts is fully committed to executing the best possible implementation of our systems at Royal Surrey County Hospital Foundation Trust, as well as for all our clients in the UK and worldwide. We’ve worked closely with the trust so it could resume normal operations, and we’ll continue to partner with leadership there to deliver exceptional functionality and service.”