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NSW Public Health System to get state-wide corporate ICT overhaul

by Paris Cowan •
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NSW Health will build a new state-wide asset management system that will replace the disparate range of systems currentlyin use in medical facilities and public health organisations across NSW.

The Department has approached the market to engage a vendor to plan, supply, implement and support the State-wide Integrated Asset and Facilities Management Program, which makes up a crucial stage of NSW Health’s ten year ICT Strategic Plan.

Tender documents reveal that the program will run for three years, in which time the selected vendor is expected to produce a common integrated IT solution to support the full range asset and facilities management functions across the public health system.

This public health system includes 17 Local Health Networks, Ambulance Services NSW, the Health Department and all associated bodies such as the Clinical Excellence Commission and Cancer Institute. 

At present there are at least 18 discrete asset registers in use across the state’s public health system, with even more spreadsheets and databases used to track asset details, which the new system will need to replace.

The required solution will manage $11 billion worth of NSW Health assets in 210 locations, and another 66,000 pieces of medical equipment which represent an expenditure of $840 million.

The NSW Auditor General heralded the tender’s release in December last year, however it is several months later than anticipated.

In his financial audit of NSW Health, the Auditor General Peter Achterstraat said he supported plans to proceed with the overhaul of its Asset Management and Maintenance System.

“The Department advised various versions of an Asset Management and Maintenance System (AMMS) exist across the health sector, predominantly designed and focussed on supporting the management of built assets, rather than equipment,” said Achterstraat in the report. “The various asset systems: are not integrated; reporting capacities are limited; cannot be used as a planning, benchmarking or management tool; and are becoming progressively obsolete.”

Intermedium reported in November that NSW Health’s ICT Strategic Plan would soon be moving into its implementation phase, which is due to cover the period 2012 to 2016. This tender will give NSW Health a head start on procurement for this phase.

2011 has been singled out in the Strategic Plan for the completion of core clinical and corporate systems.

“By 2011 we plan to have implemented the core clinical and corporate systems across NSW to support patient journeys through the health system and to provide the corporate systems and management information needed to manage the health system efficiently,” says the document, which was last amended in 2008.

Launched in 2006, the ICT Strategy is based around four core ICT reform programs:

1.    Corporate Systems

2.    Clinical Systems

3.    Business Information

4.    Infrastructure

The integrated asset management project forms part of the Corporate Systems branch of the plan. Other corporate projects tabled in the strategy include investments in ICT infrastructure such as data centres, an automated rostering program, and the development of PowerBilling software for patient billing.

Another component of the ICT Strategic Plan, the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) could possibly be ditched before the end of the year.

A scathing report of the EMR’s emergency department component FirstNet, compiled by Jon Patrick, Director of the University of Sydney’s Health IT research laboratory, has revealed that the system is widely hated by clinical staff and has at times linked records to the wrong patients.

The system, built by Cerner Corporation, makes up part of the Clinical Systems Strategy. Strategy documents show that a clinical alert system, an ICU information system and a medication management solution were all scheduled to be added to the EMR infrastructure in 2012-2016.

But the NSW Coalition, who is favourite to win government in the March election, stated intentions to halt the roll out of FirstNet if the system is not fixed.

"A risk assessment needs to be done to determine if the system can be repaired with input from emergency specialists. If the system cannot deliver what is required by our hospitals then work would need to begin on looking for an alternative,” said Opposition Health Spokeswoman Jillian Skinner in a statement.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Greg Wells indicated his intention to set up a clinical advisory group to look into the matter, and that a spokesperson for the Department said that emergency meetings were being held with Cerner.

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