Hospital IT bill soaring

Network upgrades at Palmerston North Hospital will cost an extra $1.3 million after the scope of the proposed system overhaul was found to have been underestimated.

It will now cost $4.1m to upgrade the hospital's vulnerable computer network, wireless internet and telephony infrastructure, the MidCentral District Health Board was told this week.

The board began moving to upgrade its system in August 2012 when it approved $2.7m for upgrading the wireless and telephony infrastructure.

The funding also included a "like for like" replacement local area network to support the hospital's computers.

But just months later, in May 2013, the network suffered two total power failures in one day, forcing clinicians to cancel outpatient appointments because critical information systems were unavailable.

An immediate review of the system, and of the system upgrade proposed in 2012, was undertaken.

It found the system did not provide the resilience to recover from failure, or it would be unable to operate if one part failed.

The proposed "like for like" local area network was also found to be a failure, while the proposed upgrade of wireless and telephony infrastructure was considered fit for purpose.

Telecommunications Users Association New Zealand (TUANZ) chief executive Paul Brislen said it was vital to have the right IT services and support in the health system.

"It's an essential service these days - it wasn't that long ago that if the phones were down it was OK, everyone just got on," he said.

"These days when the phones go down it takes out the data connectivity as well and that means you can't do a lot of the things we used to do by paper, we just don't have the manual back-ups.

"So you've really got no choice but to rely entirely on the technology and that means you've got to make sure you've got a lot of redundancy and capacity to make sure nothing goes wrong."

The redesigned solution, expected to take the hospital well into the future, will support internet access for patients, high-quality video conferencing, future applications like internet TV, voice-over IP telephony and internet-based learning programmes.

Early indications show about $1.5m of investment is also expected over three years, including fibre-optic cabling, network cabling and communications closets.

A business case will be submitted in 2014 to address these areas.

Mr Brislen said it wasn't uncommon for companies to go out to tender for something they thought was adequate without asking the applicants what they thought was ideal.

"In most cases a lot of the scope would be directed by the choices the people putting out the tender make.

"So if they think they just need a like-for-like upgrade, everyone will be quoting just on what that is," he said.

MidCentral District Health Board representatives were unavailable to comment.

Manawatu Standard