Major NHS trust forced to postpone operations after heatwave causes IT issues

London’s Guys and St Thomas’ has cancelled some appointments and asked patients to bring letters to others to ensure they can be processed

Credit: Soham Banerjee/CC BY 2.0

One of the UK’s biggest NHS trusts has been forced to cancel operations and other patient services this week after its IT systems experienced “significant disruption” as a result of the heatwave.

Guys and St Thomas’ first announced that it was “having some problems with our IT and telephone systems” on Tuesday – the day on which the UK recorded its first-ever temperature in excess of 40 degrees Celsius.

“If you are having difficulty getting through to us, please bear with us while we get it fixed,” it said on Twitter.

The following morning the trust said that it continued to “have some problems with our IT and telephone systems, which we are working hard to fix”.

Patients arriving for appointments were advised to “there may be some delays… [and] to help us reduce the risk of this, please bring any letters or paperwork we have sent you to your appointment”.

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As of the trust’s most recent update, issued yesterday, patients were once again advised that – in order to minimise delays – they should bring with them any hard-copy documents related to their appointment.

The trust added: “Most of our services are still running as normal so if you have an appointment, please turn up unless you hear from us directly. We are trying to contact anyone whose appointment we need to cancel.”

In a further public statement, it revealed more about the extent of the problemes caused by the IT issues, which is said were “a result of the extreme temperatures on Tuesday”, which had resulted in “significant disruption to our IT systems, which is having an ongoing impact on our services”.

“While the majority of appointments have gone ahead, unfortunately we have had to postpone some operations and appointments and we apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused,” it added. “The trust has well-established business continuity plans to allow us to continue as much activity as possible and to ensure that patient safety is prioritised at all times. Our teams are working around the clock to fix these problems as soon as possible.”

The Guardian reported that both of the trust’s datacentres had shutdown earlier this week after a failure of its cooling mechanisms. This had led to the declaration of a “critical site incident”.

The newspaper claimed that Guys and St Thomas; had needed to divert treatments for major services – including cardiac and vascular – to other hospitals.

“This is having a major effect” a doctor told the Guardian, on condition of anonymity. “We are back to using paper and can’t see any existing electronic notes. We are needing to triage basic tests like blood tests and scans. There’s no access to results apart from over the phone, and of course the whole hospital is trying to use that line.

“Frankly, it’s a big patient safety issue and we haven’t been told how long it will take to fix.”

Guys and St Thomas’ manages five hospitals in London and the surrounding area. It employs about 23,500 staff and treats more than two million patients each year.


Sam Trendall

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