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London Ambulance Service hit by IT Problems on New Year’s Eve

The severe disruption to London Ambulance Service’s IT systems on New Year’s Eve has been widely reported in the media, although little is known at this stage about the root cause.  Hopefully, in due course, any useful lessons identified will be shared throughout the NHS to minimise the chance of a recurrence.  In the mean time I was struck by two thoughts…

Firstly, and as I have probably remarked previously in this blog; it is a reminder that very unlikely combinations of events do happen from time to time.  Much of the reporting of the incident focused on people’s incredulity that such an outage could occur on the busiest night of the year; indeed if I presented an NHS client with something similar as an exercise scenario I suspect I would receive much negative feedback about the credibility of the scenario.  Nevertheless it happened.

The second thought arose from the assumption that having a disruption at a busy time is, by definition, the worst case scenario.  I know nothing about the workings of LAS but it seems at least plausible that they were actually better able to manage the disruption because they had increased staffing to cope with the expected demand and had already deployed large numbers of staff on the ground in treatment centres.  I don’t wish to labour the point, but it just occurred to me that there are important implications for planning for ‘reasonable worst cases’: the most difficult disruption to manage may actually be one that occurs at a quiet time when resources are very limited?