IT problems interfering with British army doctors’ ability to treat soldiers
Concerns have also been raised about patient confidentiality with documents printing to wrong printers, buildings or even cities
Armed forces doctors have said their ability to provide a safe service is being hampered by serious problems with their IT system.
The British Medical Association (BMA) says it has been raising concerns for two years with the surgeon-general and Ministry of Defence (MoD) that the system was jeopardising patient care.
The Defence Medical Services has around 13,200 staff, about 83 per cent of them military, who are responsible for providing health care to 147,000 UK regular forces personnel.
In an effort to strengthen its case for action, the BMA has kept a log of problems its members have experienced since April. The log, which includes examples of IT systems being completely unavailable and wrong patients’ details appearing on screen during consultations, has been submitted to the surgeon-general, Lt Gen Martin Bricknell, but the doctor’s union said action had still not been taken.
Colonel Glynn Evans, the chair of the BMA’s armed forces committee, said: “It’s the biggest problem they [the members] say they are facing at the moment. It’s the number one issue in my in-tray. If I can’t access the previous health record, I can’t see what drug to prescribe and, because prescriptions are issued electronically, it becomes very difficult to prescribe.
“If a soldier, sailor or airman is going abroad, I need to see if there’s a reason I shouldn’t prescribe a particular vaccination and, if I can’t go online, I can’t do that.”
Evans said it would be unacceptable in a GP practice for civilians, but that the issue not being remedied in military surgeries.
Members have told the BMA that time spent on patient consultation and care has been cutback because they have had to waste time trying to fix problems temporarily or work around them. These issues include applications running slow or freezing and work not saving.
Concerns have also been raised about patient confidentiality with documents printing to wrong printers, buildings or even cities, Evans said. Reports have been logged that the assistance provided by support staff has been neither timely nor effective, and that issues have not been resolved.
At the BMA’s conference in June, delegates heard that one member had described the IT system as “the biggest threat to patient safety that I have encountered in my 20 year career – it overtakes Lariam [the antimalarial, which can have severe psychological side effects, formerly used by UK troops] in terms of risk to patients”.
The MoD says the number of complaints is low given the number of consultations, but Evans said some doctors had told him they chose not to report issues because they had to spend up to 45 minutes on the phone waiting to do so only for no action to be taken. In other cases, he said the person on the other end of the phone did not record a formal complaint.
“The IT system is getting in the way of delivering the high-quality care that our soldiers, sailors and airmen deserve,” Evans said.
Julian Lewis, the chair of the Commons defence select committee, said: “Obviously it’s a cause for concern. It can lead to delays or to the cutting of medical corners in order to avoid delays and neither of these is a satisfactory situation.”
An MoD spokesman said the surgeon-general took all concerns raised by the BMA seriously and was committed to rectifying any problems.
“IT issues have been raised in 0.001 per cent of medical consultations over the past two years, and none of these incidents have ever caused any harm,” he said.
“As with all systems, problems can occur but are rare. We have a dedicated team ready to fix any issues swiftly and we instruct clinical staff not to undertake non-emergency appointments if health care records can’t be accessed.”