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DHB computer fault 'concerning'

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 16:39 27/02/2014

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A lengthy computer outage at Southern District Health Board is concerning and a review should be conducted and its results made public, Institute of Information Technology Professionals chief executive Paul Matthews says.

The outage began early on Monday morning and sent hospitals in Dunedin and Invercargill back to pen and paper before it was resolved on Tuesday afternoon.

Southern District Health Board medical director of patient services Richard Bunton said he was as happy as he could be with the response of technology supplier IBM, given he was "not an information technology expert and had to take experts' advice".

Prime Minister John Key who was visiting Dunedin Hospital at the time appeared to make light of the incident, saying computers sometimes failed.

But Matthews said the lack of redundancy in the system that would have allowed it to keep functioning after a hardware failure was "really concerning".

"We don't want to condemn too strongly until all the facts have come out about how this happened," Matthews said.

"But certainly when you have an outage that goes on for that long in a core system like that, you do have to ask some questions about the lack of redundancy and why there weren't plans in place to get systems back up and going a little bit quicker.

"We would expect [the DHB] would be conducting a review and that the results of the review would be made public."

The outage came on the heels of a separate IT failure at the health board which resulted in the results of 3850 mammograms taken between February 1 and October 31, 2012, being lost.

Bunton said that in the latest incident a gateway to its main server that routed information to and from the server and its storage systems had failed.

No elective surgery needed to be cancelled and no data appeared to have been lost but there was disruption to outpatient services and a lot of people had had to work overtime while the hospitals reverted to manual systems, he said.

The failure required a reboot of its main server and data on one of its disc drives had to be rebuilt.
Bunton believed the DHB was likely to have the wear the costs of the overtime, but said the computer hardware was covered under its service contract with IBM.

Candace Kinser, chief executive of industry body NZICT, said it was hard to point blame.

"In a critical environment like a DHB there would be redundancy [backups] built in or considered, but it is not necessarily possible to cover everything. You have to trade off cost as well."

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IBM spokewoman Katherine Litten would not comment on whether it would pick up the overtime tab or why the DHB's computers had apparently been brought down by the failure of a single piece of equipment, citing "client confidentiality".

- Fairfax Media

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