The NHS data spine will be down for 36 hours next weekend while a software and hardware upgrade takes place, the Connecting for Health IT agency has confirmed.
The spine is a crucial part of the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT). Supplier BT is set to carry out a complete refresh of the database infrastructure aimed at enabling a more automated, faster and surer failover system.
The planned upgrade will take place between 10pm on Friday 9 November and 10am on Sunday 11 November. It comes just a few weeks after the first electronic summary records for patients were uploaded onto the spine at pilot sites in Bolton.
The uploading of patient data is one of the most controversial elements of the huge NHS computer scheme, with doctors expressing repeated concerns about the confidentiality and security of the data. A survey of GPs in Bolton found that many opposed the summary care record project.
Guidance about the upgrade issued to NHS organisations warns that key NPfIT systems will be affected, including the Choose and Book hospital appointment booking system, the electronic prescription service, the personal demographic service and the GP2GP records transfer system for family doctors.
NHS staff will not be able to make hospital bookings and referrals until normal service has resumed and integration between local hospital patient administration systems and Choose and Book may be affected. It will not be possible to transfer patient records through the GP2GP system during the maintenance period.
A Connecting for Health spokesperson said: “Normal business continuity measures should be in place during this 36 hour planned maintenance period and the overall impact is expected to be minimal.”
Maintenance work on the spine does not usually have an impact on system users, she said, adding: “As this maintenance session implements a complete software and hardware refresh of the database infrastructure, NHS Connecting for Health have had to adopt a different approach. This type of maintenance is unusual and is unlikely to recur to the same extent in the future.”
The NHS IT architecture was designed to allow systems to run in local mode if they were unable to contact the spine, the spokesperson said.