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NHS 24 Future Programme falters on launch



Scotland returns to legacy system for online healthcare support days after official launch of new service

The new IT system for Scotland’s NHS 24 online and telephone healthcare support service has been withdrawn just days after its launch, with no prospect of it appearing until the new year.

Future Programme had been implemented gradually from the end of last month, but a series of operational problems led to an initial halt on the implantation, then a return to the legacy system.

Although the problems not been fully specified, a statement from NHS 24 referred to the response to weekend call volumes falling “beyond acceptable tolerances”.

The statement said the performance of the service over 10 days had been “extremely challenging”, with chief executive Ian Crichton suggesting there had been concerns about the implications for safety.

Stiff challenge

"Major IT upgrades always bring a degree of challenge, but what makes implementation of our new technology solution unusually difficult is the need to keep patients safe, while we get it fully operational,” he said.

“As winter approaches we expect weekend call volumes to significantly increase and our forecast indicates that service levels at weekends would fall below acceptable tolerances. It is for this reason that we have taken the decision today to roll back.

"While we will maintain the delivery of safe care to patients, we will continue to develop the new system offline and renew preparations to reintroduce the solution in early 2016.”

The setback intensifies the financial pressure on NHS 24. Last month Audit Scotland published a report saying that a series of delays from the original Future Programme launch date of June 2013 had increased the risk of the organisation failing to meet its financial targets.

The IT cost of the IT system is now estimated at £117.4 million, more than 50% on the original figure, with the delays adding extra costs of about £450,000 per month.

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