IT supplier knew about error in 2016, says HSE

The HSE has alleged that its software provider knew 18 months ago about the information technology error that has cast doubt over 25,000 medical scans.

HSE’s director general Tony O’Brien issued a memo to the leadership team in the organisation yesterday.

He alleged that the software provider knew of the error in January 2016.

At least 25,000 X-rays, MRIs, CTs and ultrasounds taken since 2011 are affected by the computer programming error, but it was only detected by the HSE last week.

The consequence of the IT flaw means patients could have been undertreated, overtreated or not treated at all.

“Of grave concern to me, Change Healthcare [the software provider] did not inform us about this issue at this time [when they allegedly became aware of it in 2016],” Mr O’Brien wrote.

“As far as we are aware, no other customers in other jurisdictions were informed. There are 54 hospitals in the USA using this solution in the same way as we do in Ireland and many other organisations around the world,” he added.

Mr O’Brien said that concerns regarding patient safety should be the highest priority.

“One would consider that anything that concerns clinical safety would be of the highest priority and that all efforts would be made to minimise potential harm. This includes being open and transparent and providing sufficient information to allow us as clients to inform our patients,” he said.

The Irish Examiner asked the HSE to comment on the leaked memo and a spokeswoman confirmed “what has appeared in the media to date largely reflects the accuracy of the position”.

The software company, Change Healthcare, issued a worldwide field safety notice about the error on Thursday, after the controversy broke.

In Ireland, approximately 23,302,968 records have been created in the last six years on the National Integrated Medical Imaging System for 6,109,043 people. Of these, 21,131 records were impacted by the error.

The exact issue relates to the use of the “less than [<]” symbol and it being omitted or not visible when being read in a report by a medical professional.

Professor of computer science at University College Cork, Barry O’Sullivan, gave an analogy of the problem.

“It’s like if I have a piece of software and I ask how many people in my area are less than 50 years of age, that number is not going to include the people that are 50 years of age.

“The answers are totally disjointed.

“It changes the logic of the system so fundamentally that it is not possible to rely on the output of that system. To say it’s a glitch is an understatement,” Prof O’Sullivan said

The HSE said all hospitals and radiology departments operating NIMIS have been notified of this issue.

Both Mercy University Hospital and Cork University Hospital issued statements to say their patients were not affected.

A spokesman for the software company told the Irish Examiner on Thursday that it was working “collaboratively with the HSE to investigate and resolve” the issue.

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