SA hospital EDs ‘back to normal’ after IT system failure

SA Health’s chief executive says patients can turn up to emergency departments as normal today, after a major computer crash prompted a plea last night to stay away unless their health issue was urgent.

Apr 20, 2023, updated Apr 20, 2023
Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

SA Health on Wednesday urged people to stay away from hospital emergency departments unless they had “serious” health concerns, due to a government computer systems outage which had cause the state’s hospital electronic reporting system to go down.

The “electrical incident” occurred at a state government data centre at Glenside earlier on Wednesday and caused computer system outages across multiple government departments.

This morning, SA Health CEO Dr Robyn Lawrence said the problems had been largely resolved.

“We are back to normal and we’ll expect all of our services to be seeing the patients as anticipated today,” she told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“We’ve still got some work to do, so patients may still notice a mild delay at different points in time, but overall our systems are fully operating.”

Lawrence said there was one patient administration system that is still down, affecting SA Health’s operations in the rural and remote regions.

But she said new patients attending the state’s hospitals “should see the system operation essentially as it normally would”.

“Overnight, the digital health team, working with the hospital teams have been able to restore pretty much all of our services back to normal this morning,” she said.

“And as people are coming into work, they’re back logging into their systems, and at this stage everything looks stable and back to normal from the digital systems.”

She also revealed that SA Health’s “failover” system, which activated when the computer system outage occurred, was unable to handle the flood of new users yesterday.

“What happened yesterday when we did that was the systems did actually work in the background, but they couldn’t manage the load of people we required to have access to them,” she said.

“The failover didn’t work as anticipated, we had tested it previous … but we’re making changes to the systems all the time, bring more locations onto them, adding a lot of more connections.

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“And as we’ve done those, it would appear that something in one of those moves may have impacted the ability for it to contain and manage the load we needed the system to.”

SA Health’s electronic reporting systems store a person’s medical history and can be accessed by doctors, nurses and paramedics.

An SA Health spokesperson later this morning said patients at some rural sites and emergency departments “may experience longer than usual waits as records are reconciled”.

“Our sickest patients will always be prioritised,” they said. 

The spokesperson on Wednesday said triple zero operations had not been impacted by the computer system outage and SA Health was not aware of any adverse clinical outcomes.

But the nurses’ union said the outage had “wide-ranging effects” with impacts to patient flow and bed availability.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA secretary Elizabeth Dabars said the outage put “an increased burden on an already stressed system”.

“This incident highlights a clear fault in the backup system used by SA Health that has left it vulnerable to widespread outages, impacting on many facets of service delivery across Local Health Networks,” she said in a statement today.  

“We are pleased that SA Health is prioritising the migration to new servers as a matter of urgency and hope this incident acts to inform improved data storage and management.

“Thought should also be given on how to better prepare and support staff members to manage an emergency scenario where manual workarounds are required.

“Members reported that the outage had wide-ranging effects and resulted in heightened workloads. Patient flow was affected by restrictions on patient information including bed availability and other points of care.” 

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