Aged IT, training lack blamed for hospital outages

LISA KNIGHT
Last updated 12:02 14/08/2014

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A lack of investment in technology and staff training has been blamed for two network glitches that crashed systems and disrupted patient appointments at Palmerston North Hospital this year.

An external review was conducted for MidCentral District Health Board after the first outage in February, which took four days to fix after the Storage Area Network (SAN) experienced a disc-control failure.

At the time, staff had to physically transport files between departments, 33 outpatient appointments had to be rescheduled, two operations were cancelled and rebooked, and a pregnant woman was transferred to Wellington Hospital.

MDHB chief executive Murray Georgel described the outage as "serious".

A second outage occurred in June after scheduled maintenance when the SAN did not restart properly and took 2 days to fix but caused minimal patient disruption, a board spokesman said.

The review of the failure, which also examined IT infrastructure and processes, found the age of the SAN, outdated firmware, lack of staff expertise in the system, deferred maintenance, lapsed warranty and a slow backup strategy all contributed to the outage.

MDHB knowledge and information manager Brian Woolley said in a review brief that DHBs were facing a challenge making IT investment decisions in a rapidly changing IT environment.

"The health service in New Zealand is working towards nationalising and regionalising information systems," he said.

"Unfortunately, deadlines are not always met and therefore MDHB has at times delayed investing in a timely manner in upgrading its infrastructure. This has led to parts of the infrastructure no longer being fit for purpose."

Woolley said the DHB had deferred training of staff in SAN technology despite the three previously trained staff having left.

"As a result there was a lack of necessary expertise at the time of the outage," he said.

The IT department was under-resourced and had skill gaps, and there was a lack of up-to-date operating manuals and procedures, he said.

The review offered several high-priority recommendations - including reviewing backup and monitoring strategy, addressing skills shortages and continuing to replace outdated technology - most of which were already under way.

The $2 million project for a new SAN system, including implementation services and data migration costs, was approved at the MDHB meeting in Dannevirke on Tuesday.

The costs include a one-off payment of $205,000 and monthly leasing costs of $35,337.

A review has also found patients are being left in corridors as problems with the buildings at the Hospital cause stress for staff and patients.

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- Manawatu Standard

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