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NSW government accused of dodgy software cover-up

FirstNet: the First State's deadest duck

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The buggy FirstNet emergency department software has become the subject of a political argument in NSW.

In one of those paradoxes of democracy, an opposition which, in government, was responsible for a now-despised implementation is now using the IT project as a stick to beat a government which was in opposition when the system was chosen.

Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald obtained a report into the system by Deloitte, under a freedom of information request. It says the Deloitte report criticises FirstNet because it is:

- Is chronically under-funded;

- Produces inadequate records;

- Was unreliable in delivering messages, and did not provide alerts when messages failed to reach their destination; and

- Demanded excessive amounts of screen time from clinicians.

In spite of its inadequacies, the Deloitte report seen by the SMH said the $AU100-plus million Cerner FirstNet system is too entrenched to abandon.

Over the weekend, opposition health spokesperson Dr Andrew McDonald issued a statement accusing NSW health minister Jillian Skinner of covering up the report since August 2011.

However, other published studies into FirstNet, such as a detailed investigation by Sydney University e-health expert Professor Jon Patrick here, identify problems similar to those apparently cited by Deloitte. This study was undertaken to investigate issues with FirstNet outlined in November 2008 in a special commission of review, conducted by Peter Garling,

While noting that FirstNet represented an improvement on some aspects of its predecessor, Garling said the system attracted complaints that it was unfriendly to users, that the vendor and Health Department did not respond to complaints about the software, and that emergency department patients were being held in triage for excessive times, while clinical staff fought with the software.

Deloitte, on the other hand, was far less critical of FirstNet in 2008, when in a review of triage benchmarks it managed to turn up a downtime issue, difficulty in uploading triage data to the Health Department, and the identification of the wrong doctor or nurse with a patient’s records. ®

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