One of the arguments that is often put forward to support the formation of a pathology network is that laboratories will be able to transfer work from one site to another if there is a crisis.
The Blood Transfusion service for a hospital in the West Midlands found that was true when a routine IT upgrade took down a critical server array. Mike Herbert, Blood Transfusion lead at Black Country Pathology Services, explains.
Towards the end of November 2021, the IT department for a trust in the West Midlands was preparing to implement a recommended update and security patch to a key operating system.
Unfortunately, this routine piece of activity resulted in a major IT incident that took down 20 systems. Among the computers affected was the cluster of servers that supported the blood group analysers used by the trust’s blood transfusion service.
As Mike Herbert, blood transfusion discipline lead at Black Country Pathology Services, explains, this meant: “We lost the ability to test most of our blood samples with end to end connectivity.”
With the automated processing platform out of action, biomedical scientists could only perform crossmatching manually to keep an emergency service going. This posed obvious risks to patient safety in anything but the short-term. A better solution was needed.
Calling the hub
Fortunately, the blood transfusion service affected is part of Black Country Pathology Services, a network that provides pathology services for The Dudley Group, Walsall Healthcare, Sandwell and West Birmingham and The Royal Wolverhampton NHS trusts.
BCPS is working to establish a state-of-the-art pathology hub at The Royal Wolverhampton’s New Cross site and four essential services labs at four other hospitals. It identified a single laboratory information system and a single equipment contract as essential to this model, and in November 2018 it picked CliniSys WinPath Enterprise as the single LIMS.
BCPS is now well into the LIMS deployment and completed the roll-out of WinPath Enterprise at the hub (Black Country Pathology Services deploys WinPath Enterprise to realise its vision of a ‘world class’ laboratory network – CliniSys (clinisysgroup.com). Just days before the IT crash, the blood transfusion service at the affected hospital went live with the same LIMS.
That made it surprisingly easy to transfer its work to the hub until normal service could be restored. Mike Herbert says: “We sat down to work out how we could safely move samples around as if we were a fully established network.
“And we realised we could alter our request codes so they would be accepted on the analyser platform at Wolverhampton, which was different from the analyser platform at the affected site. All we had to do was change the code that controlled which analyser the request was sent to, using CliniSys’ analyser interface, SampleNet.
“SampleNet just immediately re-assigned the patient demographics and test code to the hub analyser. We had hourly transport between the affected site and the hub, so all we had to do was unpack the samples when they arrived and put them on the analyser.
“Because we were on the same system, we could issue reports back in a seamless manner. The results went to the requesting clinicians as expected, and blood could be electronic issued as if it had been tested on site.
“It was all very easy, and it will be even easier in the future, because we will be using the same analysers across the network. So, if something like this happens again, we won’t even need to change the code.”
Building a better service for the future
Although it only took four days for the trust IT-team and infrastructure experts to get systems back up and running again, the incident will have some long-lasting effects. The network has written a new business continuity plan, so that if something similar does happen in the future, blood samples can be rapidly sent for processing at another site.
This outage within the blood transfusion service has spurred on an accelerated implementation plan to move over to WinPath Enterprise at all sites by the summer of 2022. The issue has proved that business continuity can be better managed and safer if samples can be moved around the network.
“Blood is a finite commodity,” Mike Herbert concludes. “We’re already pretty good at making use of the blood we have, but in future we’ll be able to move it around and make absolutely the best use of what is available. “This incident showed the value of pushing ahead with the network, so we have joined-up, seamless care. In future, we’ll be able to see the results for all pathology, which will be better for the service, clinicians and – especially – for patients themselves.”