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NHS IT bosses 'in denial' amid 'complete failure to keep up with modern technology' as cancer patient treatments delayed

Credit: PA

Bosses in charge of IT systems in the Welsh NHS are 'in denial' over the performance of the organisation they're running and there are 'question marks about the competence, capability and capacity' to deliver improved systems, a report has found.

A scathing Public Accounts Committee paper into Informatics Systems in NHS Wales highlights 'a raft of problems' with NWIS (the body in charge of NHS IT) and the work it is doing.

IT systems in NHS Wales have crashed 21 times between 1st January 2018 and 31st July 2018 - that's once every nine days.

It meant patient information - including that of cancer patients - has been inaccessible to doctors. It has also meant that some treatments - such as chemotherapy - had to be delayed.

The overarching strategy of the NWIS organisation is described in the report as 'dated'.

It says that while the likes of the iphone have been invented and extensively developed, NHS Wales remains far from its original 2003 objective of a 'seamless electronic portal for patient records'.

Among the most damming findings in the report are those around the culture in NWIS.

Mr Ramsay also took aim at how nearly £500m has been spent by the organisation by saying:

We discovered a culture of self-censorship and denial amongst those charged with taking the [IT] agenda forward.

Managers don't seem to be facing up to the true depth of the problem.

It's hard to say where the money's gone...It's a huge waste of taxpayers money, it's gone into an inefficient system.

It's gone into people who clearly don't have the expertise for what was originally promised and at the end of the day it's patients that are suffering.

– Nick Ramsay AM, Chair of the Committee
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When asked about NWIS's ability to develop IT systems, Mr Ramsay said:

"It's been a complete failure in their attempts to keep up with modern technology."

The report continues: "Digital transformation requires an open culture, the Committee found that the culture at NWIS was the antithesis of this...there is a lack of openness and transparency across the whole system."

Health board and Welsh Government teams working alongside NWIS are also criticised as having a "collective reluctance to openly discuss the true state of progress."

The report adds: "we found that witnesses were reluctant to be critical or progress or arrangements on the record...As a result the committee could have little confidence in many of the assurances we were given by NWIS and the Welsh Government."

The IT system used to manage cancer patient information was also flagged as a cyber security risk, says the report.

It states: "Microsoft stopped providing support for the system in 2014...The Committee is concerned that it has taken so long to reach the stage of having a business case [for a new system], when it must have been clear long ago that [the current one] needed replacing."

There is an acknowledgment that NWIS "was being asked to do too much within its current resources."

Recommendations in the report include "review of the senior leadership capacity in terms of skillset and governance within both NWIS and the wider NHS Digital Team."

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We welcome the report published today by the Public Accounts Committee into the use of information technology and the vital role it plays in our Welsh health and care system.

We participated in the Public Accounts Committee review in April and July this year and were pleased to share insight into the specification, planning, delivery and management of national digital health and care services for Wales.

As an NHS organisation we are working with our partners across the health and care system to make the most of the benefits that digital services can offer to health and care professionals, patients and citizens.

We will now review the report in detail.

– NWIS

We acknowledge the number of concerns raised within the report from PAC. We now need to review its findings in detail before providing a considered response to the Committee.

– Welsh Government spokesperson