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NHS IT improvements 'could save thousands of lives a year'

Systems including drug reminders could play a part

Better use of IT in England's hospitals could help prevent up to 16,000 deaths a year, a report by University Hospitals Birmingham has claimed.

The report states that the Birmingham trust has seen a 17 percent fall in deaths among emergency patients over 12 months, with the help of IT systems. It was filed to aid an investigation into why there were high hospital mortality rates at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2008, and how to tackle the problems.

Such a fall, if seen nationally, would equate to 16,000 deaths prevented, according to University Hospitals Birmingham. The report represents somewhat of a turnaround, as last year that hospital group found itself at the top end of a list of hospitals with higher than average patient mortality rates.

The mortality figures were from the independent Doctor Foster Intelligence organisation, but at the time Birmingham disputed the figures, and said its liver unit, which received high numbers of patients with advanced levels of liver damage, had helped to inflate the figures, among other reasons.

In its report to the Stafford enquiry, Birmingham said a computer was used to remind staff to give patients their drugs, and said "IT surveillance" on its wards went hand in hand with a policy of holding staff to account for errors made.

Staff at Birmingham are issued with computer-generated reminders to give patients their drugs, and the same system issues warnings to prevent prescriptions that could harm patients.

The report says the number of medication errors had halved, which has coincided with a sharp fall in deaths for patients admitted as an emergency.

Actions are recorded in a computer database and presented to staff on wards via a dashboard display. Data also includes falls, checks for blood-clots and infection control. And the system generates alarms when staff key-in clinical information such as changes to a patient's temperature, heart rate, or blood pressure.

Helen Gyves, matron in the critical care unit at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth hospital, told the BBC: "All of the nurses work in a hi-tech environment so they are used to the impact of IT.

"So if you asked us why we hadn't done something, or if you can give us evidence to prove that by challenging us things will improve for the patient, then we wouldn't mind."

The system being used by Birmingham is said to be available from a variety of commercial suppliers, although its wider take-up could possibly be hampered by the general public sector budget cuts.


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