The Machine Stops – Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust

The crash of the electronic pathology report system at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust that happened on Friday 16th September forced the Trust to declare a “critical” internal incident – the second highest level below “potential service failure” – because the crash came at the same time as extremely high levels of activity at Leeds and Bradford Hospitals. The pathology report system remained offline for a week despite efforts to recover it, leaving up to 10,000 pathology tests not done. The hospitals are prioritising tests on patients according to clinical need but anticipate delays in operating theatre start times. The Trust is asking some patients awaiting elective surgery to attend the hospitals ahead of being admitted for their blood tests. Emergency services such as major trauma and critical care are being prioritised but at the time of writing there was no indication of when the system would be running again.

The initial report in the Health Service Journal referred to an IT failure. Many Trusts have had these in the past and have triggered Business Continuity Plans to manage them. As days passed without resolution of the problem, and with calls to GPs not to do routine blood tests for two days, impressions that the Trust was coping gave way to the feeling that this incident was not quite as well managed as originally thought.

The technical problem seemed to lie with communication of results rather than failure of pathology test analysers themselves, so the Trust had to deploy staff to contact clinicians with urgent results, and arrange couriers to drop-off paper results. One HJJ commentator said: “nobody has identified a range of alternate service providers, let alone negotiated some reciprocal service level agreements for immediate implementation as soon as total service failure occurred”. Another commented: “such an extensive IT failure would put any business continuity plan under huge pressure”.  News from Nowhere wonders what caused such system failure?

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