Opposition unite in call for immediate review of HSE computer systems

Update 4.05pm: Opposition parties have called for a "full review" of the HSE’s computer systems after it emerged a dangerous flaw means up to 25,000 scans and x-rays for people with serious heart, cancer and other conditions may be inaccurate, reports Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats demanded an immediate investigation into the error which may also have led to vulnerable people being given unnecessary treatments due to incorrect test results.

The HSE yesterday confirmed that it is examining 25,000 x-rays, MRIs, CTs and ultrasounds taken since 2011 after mistakes in how they were collated were uncovered in recent days.

The errors - which were found by the HSE’s national integrated medical imaging system (NIMIS) and relate to patients undergoing radiology, cardiology and other treatments - are due to the fact the HSE’s computer system failed to properly record percentage risks in their care.

Speaking on RTE radio’s Morning Ireland programme, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher said an urgent full-scale review is needed now due to the seriousness of the issues involved.

Warning people could have been given the wrong type of care, he said:

"We need to have a full review on the HSE’s capacity in the technological areas to firstly draft contracts for purchase of software, but also to assess software and the implications of because we are moving into the digital era."

The view was repeated by his Sinn Féin counterpart Louise O’Reilly, who said the issue must be the subject of a "thorough investigation" as it raises "serious questions over the operation of the HSE", adding new rules should be implemented to make Health Minister SImon Harris legally responsible for any future errors.

Social Democrats Galway West general election candidate Niall Ó Tuathail - who is a former NHS health reform adviser - raised similar concerns, saying:

"This flaw was an avoidable mistake. In the end, tech systems can’t replace clinical judgement and should only be used as a support."

Update 4pm: The Health Service Executive have confirmed that the organisation’s Chief Information Officer has resigned.

The Executive have said Richard Corbridge’s decision to leave has nothing to do with the news that thousands of patients may need medical tests re-done because of a computer error.

A spokesperson said Mr Corbidge decided to leave after almost three years to return to the UK where he’s originally from.

Update 2.07pm:  A computer scientist has said there should always be a human who checks large automated systems and programmes.

Professor Noel Sharkey said there is no excuse for a HSE computer glitch to have remained undiscovered for 6 years.

Thousands of patients scans have been affected leading to some receiving incorrect treatment.

The HSE is investigating and has confirmed they will help anyone who has been affected.

Dr Sharkey said once programmes like this reach a certain size they are extremely difficult to test.

He said that it is not possible to formally verify them, which would mean testing them in a mathematical way. You have to run the programmes to see if they work, but this is where the issue lies.

“How do you work that when you’ve got a massive domain like medical health? How do you test every possibility?” said Dr Sharkey.


Update 12.15pm: The HSE says a computer error involving scan results poses a ’relatively low risk’ to patients.

The health authority is trying to ease fears after it was revealed that thousands of people who had routine X-rays and ultrasound exams could have been given the wrong results.

The problem has been blamed on the software used to archive scan images - the mathematical symbol for ’less than’, disappeared from many files making symptoms look bigger than they were.

Dr Colm Henry, National Clinical Advisor with the HSE, said appropriate action would be taken.

"Our initial assessment .. is that there is a relatively low risk with this omission. If we find out ...

if the risk is higher than expected we will then proceed to investigate all modalities to see whether or not there was any clinical impact or significance as a result of the omission of this sign."

Update 10.14am: The HSE has confirmed it is taking steps to assess the risk to patients as a result of a computer error.

It has emerged that thousands who have had x-rays or ultrasounds could have been given medical reports worse than they are.

Dr Colm Henry is National Clinical Advisor and Group Lead Acute Hospitals for the HSE.

He explains how they will try to rectify the problem and assess what patients may have received the wrong treatment.

“What we will do first of all is identify the exact number of cases. Secondly, we are launching an investigation,” he said.

“The investigation will look at a representative sample of cases and decide, using radiology expertise, whether or not the difference in that symbol made a clinical difference to the patient,” he added.

Earlier: A glitch in the HSE’s computer system may have led to thousands of patients being given unnecessary treatments.

A range of scans including X-rays and ultrasounds are affected by the faulty software which could have given the wrong result to 25,000 people.

The Irish Times reported the problems which is linkedto a keyboard symbol used in medical reports.

When scans are taken the images are usually archived for future reference.

But a glitch in the software has meant that some of the details have been disappearing when those scans are saved.

In this case, the symbol for ’less than’ hasn’t been showing up which means that when medics read the results they’re not getting an accurate picture.

It has been reported that one radiologist claims some patients could have been treated unnecessarily as a result of their symptoms appearing worse than they are.

But the paper also reports HSE claims that no one is likely to have suffered serious clinical harm.

The system has also been changed to replace the symbol for less than with the actual words.

KEYWORDS: patients, hse, IT


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