New booklet raises concerns over computer safety threat to patients

In the wake of the Post Office Horizon scandal highlighting the unreliability of computer evidence, a new booklet has just been published warning of potentially damaging IT issues in healthcare.

Harold Thimbleby, professor emeritus of computer science at Swansea University, and his wife Prue Thimbleby,have just published Patient Safety — stories for a digital world, a booklet based on Professor Thimbleby’s award-winning book Fix IT (Oxford University Press).

Praising the book at the time, the judges at the British Medical Book Awards said it should be read by all staff in healthcare.

“However, healthcare staff are busy so we have written this powerful, quick-read version which we hope will be widely read and impact how we think about computers and help avoid future scenarios like the Horizon scandal,” said Professor Thimbleby.

“Years ago, quack doctors were a danger to everybody. The Government responded by passing the Medical Act of 1858 because, in the Act’s opening words, ‘it is expedient that persons requiring medical aid should be enabled to distinguish qualified from unqualified practitioners’.

“We now think the idea of registering qualified doctors is self-evident. It is time the Government legislated so that everyone can avoid being the victims of quack computer systems.”
He added: “Currently, when an anaesthetist presses a button to put you to sleep, they have to be competent and will have up-to-date qualifications backed up by years of training. Yet what that button actually does to you is anyone’s guess, because it was programmed by somebody who may never have passed any relevant qualifications.

“There are no regulations governing the qualification of people programming any system, whether for accounting (as in Horizon) or delivering anaesthetics, or anything else.”
The authors are calling for urgent action by the Government so that patients can be sure the future systems are built by properly qualified developers and certified as meeting safety and quality standards.
Patient Safety – stories for a digital world examines the Post Office Horizon problems and parallel stories across the NHS and internationally. It describes safety ratings and essential regulatory improvements as well as offering advice for anyone facing disciplinary proceedings or caught up in or investigating computer problems.
See  to download a copy of the booklet or email harold@thimbleby.netfor further information.