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An internal report on the introduction of patient care records at the Royal Free Hampstead reveals serious problems with the project, and no current date for solving them.

Hampstead was one of the first hospitals to switch on the new system, which is being rolled out across the country. But the Lessons Learnt from the Royal Free Hospital Emergency Department report said there were many problems with the scheme and there is a risk that "the present situation will continue indefinitely".

The introduction of patient records and smartcards is a central part of the £12bn National Programme for IT which aims to transform how the NHS works. The Hampstead project used the Cerner Millennium Release 1 Care Records Service.

Specific problems included long log-in times for smartcards which led to people either not using them or staff sharing cards, slow registration of accident and emergency patients, regular system crashes which risked data loss, and patient data not being properly recorded.

Information is still being recorded on paper, making much of the system redundant, Computer Weekly reports. Extra staff have been drafted in to help deal with the problems.

The system went live in June and the Trust said the implementation went better than expected, but there were still problems to sort out.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Free said the hospital was working hard with BT and Cerner UK to solve the problems.

On the issue of system crashes she said: "The longest period of downtime we have experienced was overnight 17/18 September when an error occurred during a data back-up exercise at the BT data centre. This led to the trust's computer system being unavailable from midnight on Wednesday 17 September for 11 hours.

"BT worked through the night to restore the service. During the downtime paper systems were used, which is the standard business continuity procedure."

BT said it accepted there had been problems and downtime at the hospital, but it was committed to resolving the issues. ®

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