Velindre Cancer Centre plagued by legacy IT problems

Patients at Cardiff’s Velindre Cancer Centre saw critical chemo and radiotherapy appointments cancelled after the organisation was plagued by eleven major IT incidents.

Since April, the NHS Wales-run health body has experienced a string of detrimental IT failures due to a 20-year reliance on legacy Microsoft applications that the firm stopped supporting four years ago.

This striking revelation comes as the NHS is celebrating its 70th anniversary and as organisations continue to waste billions on legacy IT systems right across the world.

On July 2nd, politicians discussed the Velindre IT shortfall at a meeting of the Welsh Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee.

It is believed that Velindre Trust has categorised the flaw as a red risk, which means its systems are open to cyber attacks.

Not only have patients been unable to attend scheduled appointments, but clinicians have struggled to access patient information and consultants have been preparing patient notes at home.

Potential consequences

Lee Walters, assembly member for Llanelli, was in attendance at the committee meeting. Writing on Twitter, he said the outage could tarnish the organisation’s reputation.

“The failure led to cancelled chemo & radiotherapy appointments, distress to patients and staff, as well as reputational risk to @VelindreCC – it will take two years to get a new system in place: assuming NWIS can deliver on time (which they haven’t in last 2/3 of projects),” he indicated.

Questioning the potential causes of the IT issues, Lee blamed the “historical underfunding of IT” and the “failure of NWIS (NHS Wales Informatics Service) to manage competing demands”.

People have crowded to social media platforms such as Twitter to voice their concerns about the news. One person said: “Under investment in ICT is simply a time bomb waiting to go off.”

Growing concerns

Steve Ham, chief executive of Velindre NHS Trust, admits that his team grew concerned when patient and internal services were disrupted by IT outages.

“We had concerns over service outages which were disruptive to patients and staff. We are prepared for such eventualities and the procedures that we have in place ensured that despite the disruption to patients, a safe service was maintained,” he said in a statement.

“The performance and security of our IT systems is actively monitored and we would like to reassure our patients that at no time has their information been compromised.”

Velindre is currently working with the NHS Wales Informatics Service to replace its existing patient management system, but this could take up to two years to be completed.

He added: “NHS Wales Informatics Service were able to identify the cause of the problem and it has been resolved. In addition, Velindre NHS Trust has taken further action to strengthen our response should we experience further problems in the future.”

Technical debt

According to a report from the Auditor General for Wales, just 10 per cent of NWIS resources go towards new projects – while the rest is used for maintaining existing systems.

But although it’s working on 30 projects internally, only seven are on target to reach deadlines. Steve Thair, co-founder and chief product officer of DevOpsGroup, describes this as a prominent example of technical debt.

“Technical debt is why you end up with organisations having little time for innovation. It looks like they have a massive work in progress (WIP) problem,” he said.

“Ultimately, I’d say that the organisation has been relying on legacy IT infrastructure because it’s stuck in a project model of delivery that gets to initial deployment, declares success and moves on.

“On the other hand, there’s clearly a lack of financial resources to keep modernising and a lack of people to mitigate risks. You end up in a scenario where the systems get left to age, before eventually becoming unsupported and unsupportable”

To avoid these problems, Steve believes that organisations need to develop more streamlined and focused IT project strategies.

“Get teams to own and manage a product for the long-term, and stop juggling too many things at once. Do one thing, and get it done,” he advised.

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