£117m NHS 24 system pulled over patient safety fears

An auditors' report criticised the technology for the helpline. File picture: TSPL
An auditors' report criticised the technology for the helpline. File picture: TSPL
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A MULTI-million pound IT system for medical helpline NHS 24 has been withdrawn over fears for patient safety during the winter months.

The £117 million technology, known as Future Programme, has been dogged with problems as a damning report from Audit Scotland in October revealed it was delivered two years late with a £41m overspend.

The new telecommunications system had to be suspended within an hour of its launch last month and staff, some of whom are based in South Queensferry, had to resort to using pen and paper to take calls from patients dialling the 111 helpline for out-of-hours matters.

NHS 24 bosses have shelved the system after ten days as health board predictions found delays at weekends would have reached unacceptable levels.

Ian Crichton, NHS 24 chief executive, said: “This is not a decision that we have taken lightly, given the significant investment to date, but one that will ensure we can continue to deliver vital and safe out of hours support to patients when they need it most during the coming winter.”

The health board pledged to fix the problems offline and to attempt to reintroduce the system early next year.

MSPs have branded the project “a disaster” and called for answers on how things could have gone so wrong with a system aimed at improving efficiency.

Health Secretary Shona Robison admitted the news was “disappointing” but said NHS 24 was right to prioritise patient safety.

She said: “The board has advised us of their decision to pause their future programme and revert to its legacy systems for winter. While disappointing, patient safety must always be the number one priority and its right that NHS 24 take the time necessary to understand and fix any outstanding problems completely.

“The Scottish Government will continue working very closely with NHS 24 over the next few months to ensure the outstanding technological issues are fully resolved.

“I’ve been very clear with NHS 24 that they must use this time to work with their suppliers and take all necessary steps to ensure that when the system is introduced early next year, it runs smoothly and realises the benefits expected for patients.”

The total cost of the Future Programme has soared 55 per cent from an original estimate of £75.8m, according to Audit Scotland. Patients are still able to call NHS 24.