Contemporary Issues in Medical Informatics: Good Health IT, Bad Health IT, and Common Examples of Healthcare IT Difficulties
Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent

The Guardian

Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent
Friday February 2, 2007,,2004266,00.html

Thousands of doctors have had their detailed membership records wiped out following a huge computer failure in a new IT system built for the British Medical Association.

The BMA, main trade union for British doctors, represents more than 138,000 workers around the UK. But the collapse of the system has led to huge numbers of members being removed from its records without their knowledge.

According to sources close to the project, the blunder has wiped the records of many thousands of doctors from its database and left the association without any way of knowing who is a member.

The extent of the IT failure is unclear but some senior doctors believe that the gaffe could cause major difficulties. "There is potential for a very serious problem here," said Nizam Mamode, a consultant transplant surgeon in London and former senior official at the BMA.

The association offers a number of services to members, including legal representation in employment tribunals. Without any official membership of the BMA, Dr Mamode believes that some doctors could be left stranded. "The worst case scenario would be where there was a major instance of unfair dismissal and they weren't supported - they can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is worrying, and could definitely lead to problems."

The BMA admitted it had experienced problems with a new database system that was put in place last year, but said only a handful of doctors were involved. "As with any computer system, there were some teething problems," said a spokeswoman. "But the initial problems have been overcome and we are continuing to improve the system."

However, the Guardian understands the system has collapsed to such a point that managers are unable to find out exactly how many doctors have been affected.

One former worker, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed that the new system had experienced problems stretching back to its inception.

Nearly all British doctors - including GPs, students, consultants and surgeons - pay up to £388 a year for BMA membership. Doctors whose records have been destroyed will still have a licence to practise, as regulation over the profession is maintained by the General Medical Council.

But Dr Mamode warned that even a small mix-up could prove costly for doctors caught at the sharp end. "Most members don't actively use the BMA's services," he said. "But if there was a situation in which you wanted their support for an issue at work, then they'd need to do something. If a health trust says 'you're sacked' and I want to fight it, I would ring the BMA."

The association faces the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees and costs.

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