NHS computer systems blamed for 900 deaths per year

Experts have said computers could be blamed for nearly 900 patients deaths in the NHS a year.

According to professors at Gresham College “bad and low-quality” computers are embedded across the publicly funded national healthcare system.

Harold Thimbleby, professor emeritus of geometry at Gresham College, said to BT: “Devices in hospitals – which are used for a range of applications from storing patient records and making appointments to systems embedded in devices like MRI scanners and dialysis machines – are unnecessarily buggy and susceptible to cyber attacks.”

Keeping the NHS running

Thimbleby and his colleague, Martyn Thomas, estimated the number of deaths a year that could be caused by computer issues in a recent lecture.

Prof Thimbleby said in one of the lectures:  “If you go into a hospital there isn’t a good word to describe how bad stuff in a hospital is and how unaware people are in hospitals of the low quality: they’re stuck with it. They’re over-worked, they’ve got a job to do and understanding the computer systems isn’t part of their job so it’s understandable.

“There are computers in the sterilisation unit in the basement, there are computers in the MRI scanner, there are computers everywhere keeping the NHS running.

Safety of hospital software

“And we think there are 100 to 900 computer-related deaths per year and we think that is a big underestimate.

“Some recognised disasters in Britain: Piper Alpha had 167 deaths and there was a public inquiry; Ladbroke Grove, the rail crash in Paddington had 31 deaths and there was a public inquiry; Grenfell, the fire last year had 71 years, and there is a public inquiry. Why don’t we have a public inquiry into the safety of hospital software?”

He also added that the WannaCry ransomware attack that crippled the NHS last year “could have killed a lot of people”.

Written by Leah Alger