By: Kate Benson
DOCTORS at more than 100 hospitals in the state could not access patient records or vital test results for up to 36 hours last weekend after a power failure crippled NSW Health's computerised database.
Some records were lost, X-ray and pathology results could not be accessed and staff were forced to use whiteboards to keep track of emergency patients after the main server shut down at 9am on Saturday because of a faulty circuit-breaker.
Back-up power from the Cumberland Data Centre, which provides computer access to the Greater Western, Greater Southern and Sydney West area health services also failed, plunging some of the busiest hospitals in the state into chaos.
Thousands of patients were affected, with doctors and nurses forced to take notes on paper and go to other parts of the hospital to collect hard copies of results, extending treatment times and adding to the confusion.
Some staff, who did not want to be named, said the weekend was chaotic and a shambles. One surgeon said it was fortunate no lives were lost.
The chief executive of Sydney West Area Health Service, Steven Boyages, said hospital blackouts that lasted more than 30 to 60 minutes were unacceptable, but the Health Minister, John Della Bosca, insisted patients were not put at risk. "At no time was there any threat to patient care or safety," he said yesterday.
The Opposition spokeswoman on health, Jillian Skinner, said the blackout was "a serious failure" with great potential for disaster.
"Hospitals affected not only lost access to patient records, some lost some patient records altogether … and couldn't access X-rays unless they physically went to the X-ray department for a film copy," she said. "John Della Bosca should explain why the patient records system lost power, why back-up systems also failed, and whether patient safety was compromised."
A spokesman for Mr Della Bosca said workers doing routine maintenance at the data centre had triggered the outage. No patients had reported problems connected to the blackout but a full investigation would be launched. "If necessary changes will be implemented to prevent a recurrence," he said.
with Louise Hall
Hospitals at Westmead, Auburn, Blacktown, Nepean, Lithgow, Mount Druitt, Cumberland, Blue Mountains, Dubbo, Bathurst, Orange, Mudgee, Parkes, Bourke, Albury, Queanbeyan and Goulburn were affected.