Thursday, April 2, 2009

The London Ambulance Service and IT

Tom Reynolds works as an Emergency Medical Technician in the London Ambulance Service (LAS) and writes the blog Random Acts of Reality. He has often complained about the Computer-Aided Dispatch system used to communicate between the ambulance control centre and ambulance crews in their cabs.

The system was first deployed in 1992, predating the NHS Connecting for Health IT project. It has experienced problems on a number of occasions - in 2006 the system crashed nine times in two weeks! There was another crash in August last year. It is claimed that upto 30 lives have been lost due to response delays caused by system failures.

The last failure was on the night of Saturday 21 March for almost two hours. A Saturday night shift is not well-liked by the staff of the ambulance service, hospital A & E departments, the police etc. The media claims that 25 people suffered from ambulance delays due to this most recent delay.

Of course, the LAS denies this saying that reversion to the "tried and tested" pen and paper recording systems with radio communications to ambulance crews. Knowing a little bit about radio communication, I expect the ambulance service uses VHF FM radios which in a built-up area such as London will have "black-spots" where radio contact with control or A&E is not possible. If you have ever passed under a bridge on the motorway with your car radio on, you will know what I mean. Pass through the Blackwall tunnel under the River Thames, the same.

Tom tells me that this happens more often than is reported:
"Oh... But that happens *all the time* - we end up going back to 'pen and paper' and it seems to work just fine. (Some might say *better* without upper management checking their computer screens all the time)"

It seems that a new system is being developed by Northop Gumman - see press releases
here and here.

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