Limerick hospital record system could 'take 10 years' to implement

UL Hospitals: there is a 'challenge' in storing healthcare charts

Fintan Walsh


Fintan Walsh

Limerick hospital record system could 'take 10 years'

Picture of ‘inappropriately’ stored files at University Hospital Limerick, on the stairs near the medical records department

MASS paper-shuffling and offsite storage for health-care files could continue to be a problem at University Hospital Limerick until 2027, as a modern electronic health record system “may take 10 years” to implement.

At a monthly patients council on April 11, UL Hospitals Group’s chief clinical director, Prof Paul Burke said that the delivery of an electronic health record [EHR] may take 10 years, despite ongoing challenges with file storage.

The EHR is a proposed ICT system that will share key patient information efficiently within the local and national health services. Recently, the Limerick Leader received photos of large volumes of “inappropriately” stored healthcare records, impeding complete access to stairs leading to medical records department.

In response to these pictures, a spokesperson for the group said: “Hard copy patient medical records are stored in the medical records department, UHL, and at an offsite storage facility. Over recent times the number of records being stored in the department has increased significantly and this has been compounded by an ongoing fault with the lift which has added to delays in the removal of records from the department.

“Records that were stored inappropriately have now been removed and a new process put in place to ensure the situation does not reoccur.”

According to minutes of the April meeting, received under Freedom of Information, Prof Burke said that “there are challenges with storage of charts and all records must be stored for a period of time and may be stored off site due to space. Some files are very large and need updating. There is a plan for electronic health record but this may take 10 years.” 

Currently, the group delivers separate data-sharing services within a number of specialities, particularly in cardiology, endoscopy, medical oncology, geriatric medicine, dermatology.

The spokesperson told the Leader: “We, like many of our counterparts throughout the country, are working to consolidate this information to allow us to deliver more effective patient care, provide insights into how we run our service, and ultimately incorporate it into an EHR.”

However, it is understood that a 10-year programme for this digital infrastructure is awaiting approval from the Department of Health. 

UL’s founding president, Dr Ed Walsh, who has endorsed the concept of the EHR at public events, described the proposed delivery of the record system by 2027 as “depressing”.

He said Estonia’s health service has implemented an EHR and has received “remarkable results”.

“And until that is done, unfortunately, thousands of people will spend a huge amount of time writing down notes, and paper being moved around. We have many, many computer systems in the health service, but they don’t talk to each other.” He opined that resources used for the some 20,000 health service staff “who shuffle paper” could be directed to frontline medical staff.

“They [the health service] are consumed by the inefficient bureaucracy, which is based on a Victorian paper system. And until we move that, we won’t be able to move the resources necessary to provide the healthcare that the patient requires.”

The Group has rolled out an eReferral system and Healthlink data-sharing service for GPs and patients, and will soon roll out a “single patient administration system” for all acute hospitals in the Mid-West.