When IT goes bad: health service struggles to get new system up and running

The FPL system has faced a number of delays

The FPL system has faced a number of delays

By Niall McCracken

A MULTIMILLION pound IT system designed to improve the effectiveness of business functions across all health and social care organisations here is struggling to get off the ground eight months after launch and is still classified as “high-risk”, The Detail can reveal.

The latest committee minutes from the Business Service Organisation (BSO), which provides professional services for the health and social care sector, highlight serious concerns about the future of the new system and the impact this is having on BSO’s reputation.

The Finance, Procurement and Logistics (FPL) system was developed over five years at a cost of £15m. However the Detail can reveal it has been faced with numerous delays and errors including a payment of £24 paid as £24,000 to the Public Health Agency and payroll delays of up to three weeks.

Last month the FPL system was still classified as a “high risk” by the BSO’s corporate risk register. Despite first being introduced by BSO in October 2012, The Detail can reveal the successive delays have meant the system won’t be rolled out in full until after the summer.

In a response to an Assembly question tabled on July 1 2013 by David McClarty MLA, the Health Minister Edwin Poots confirmed that he was aware of the “problems that have been experienced during the implementation of the FPL system and the measures being taken to address them”.

PREMATURE PRAISE?

The remit of the FPL system is to modernise the payroll and human resources systems for Northern Ireland’s vast healthcare workforce and centralise services across a number of offices.

Speaking in February 2010 after the Department of Finance approved funding for the project, Mr Sean Donaghy, who was then Under Secretary of the resources and performance management group for the Department of Health, outlined the department’s hopes for the FPL system.

He said: “One of the lessons from any major IT implementations that have been done across the modern world is that rushed projects very often fail. Unfortunately, the Health Service in the UK can point to too many examples of that. Therefore, we are taking the project forward carefully, and we believe that it will deliver successful outcomes in due course.”

The Business Services Transformation Programme (BSTP) was established by BSO as a key driving force in the modernisation agenda and was charged with the implementation of the FPL system.

The BSTP’s bulletin from October 12 hailed the first “go live of the new FPL system as a success”.

BSTP newsletter after new system launch in October 2012

BSTP newsletter after new system launch in October 2012

However, two months later, the BSTP’s December 2012 bulletin exposed serious concerns around “system stability and performance” acknowledging that the FPL system was not “sufficiently stable to allow the remaining organisations to go live at this moment in time”.

The “technical difficulties” were criticised by some MLAs for contributing to existing delays in the “prompt payment” of invoices by Northern Ireland’s health and social care trusts.

In January 2013, Jim Allister MLA, asked Mr Poots about the measures taken to address the poor performance of prompt payments by HSC trusts.

In his response the Minister cited delays in the implementation of the FPL system. He said:

“Staff resources have been temporarily directed towards the implementation of the new finance payments system as part of the Business Services Transformation Programme (BSTP) which has had a direct effect on the prompt payment performance over recent months.

“The introduction of new financial systems as part of the BSTP is now under way. When these systems are fully embedded across all of the Trusts, they are expected to have a positive impact on the prompt payment performance by eliminating some of the manual interventions and problems related to the wide geographical spread of sites.”

However BSO’s corporate risk report from March this year highlighted that there was still a “lack of system stability/trust and confidence impacting on future FPL roll out and therefore BSO reputation.” The report classified the risk as “extreme”.

The report refers to “significant problems with certain data related elements of the new FPL systems” and claims it has had an impact on the accuracy of BSO stock balance and stock issues to trusts.

A further board meeting of the BSO in April 2013 also highlights that because of ongoing issues with the FPL system, it had impacted on the accuracy of the reported income and therefore made it “impossible to present an accurate and reliable balance sheet for the organisation at the end of March 2013”.

FURTHER PROBLEMS

The FPL system was also high on the agenda of the Health and Social Care Board’s (HSCB) audit committee.

Minutes from March this year state that a significant number of payments under the FPL system were outstanding and therefore close monitoring would continue with BSO.

It was noted that since the roll out of the FPL system, significant difficulties had been encountered over a range of areas:

• Adequacy of controls to mitigate human error, eg £24 paid as £24,000 for HSCB ;

• Availability of payroll information to update the finance system, eg at time of the update report payroll data was not available to upload to the FPL system for February’s payroll a delay of 3 weeks;

• Stock accounting inaccuracies impacting on overall HSC breakeven;

• Availability of key reports within the FPL system eg Duplicate payments, Prompt Payment and Payables (creditors) back;

• Live and significant time requirements to manage on an on-going basis;

In the last BSTP bulletin to date from February this year, it stated that the implementation of FPL had been postponed in the Northern Trust due to “system stability and performance issues”. It said this provided the project team with “an opportunity to learn from organisations that have gone live and ensure there are procedures to deal with any changes in work processes.”

In response to an assembly question this month from David McClarty MLA, the Health Minister said that BSTP newsletters for March, April, May and June 2013 were not produced due to limited staff resources, but that the programme plan is to provide a summer edition by the end of July 2013 and to provide quarterly reports thereafter.

In a statement to The Detail a spokesperson for BSTP said the FPL system went live in the South Eastern Trust at the end of June but confirmed that the system would not go live in the Southern or Northern trust’s until September 2013. It said the majority of “system stability and performance issues have been resolved”, but confirmed that the system was still considered as a “high corporate risk.”

© The Detail 2013