Warning about potential data loss in pharmacies

I write to warn fellow contractors in community pharmacy about a major IT issue that affects storage of patient data.

One busy afternoon last summer, our local area suffered a power cut. Normal service was restored three hours later but our pharmacy computer system could not reboot. I received a telephone call from my locum pharmacist telling me that she could not access the patient medication record (PMR). I advised her that prescriptions should be handwritten until IT support rectified the issue.

I assessed the situation the next day. I logged a call with our software provider, AAH, to get an engineer out. The engineer worked on the system but later told me that the power cut wiped out the hard drive. It needed to be removed and a backup had to be run on the system to restore the data. The software provider normally runs remote backups every day but the engineer told me that this had not been done. Our own backups (as per protocol advised by IT support at AAH head office) had been completed but this backs up to the hard drive (which was wiped clean after the power cut).

The system had been restored to March 2016, but data from March 2016 to June were missing. The data includes refrigerator temperature logs, medicines use review records, patient PMR notes and patient dispensing records. Our hard drive was taken by AAH to restore the data from the drive. Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful.

Following various communications with the IT department at AAH, I was able to provide them with the information they needed in order to establish the remuneration for the data loss. I was told that the company is ultimately responsible for the backing up process. Unfortunately, the response was disappointing. The company said that its liability was only £4,300. No indication was given as to how this was calculated. It appears that this figure is all that will be paid out in the event of this happening again. I calculated that the estimated loss of income from unclaimed payments for electronic dispensing and other services from those three months total around £20,000. This includes loss of electronic prescriptions (they are stuck on the NHS spine and I cannot track or retrieve them), loss of business through missed repeat prescription requests and increased patient queries, leading to extra staff time rectifying problems with prescriptions. The issue is still ongoing.

Since the incident, I have learnt that this kind of data loss has occurred at three other pharmacies. I am not aware of any protocol changes with my software supplier to prevent incidents like this occurring again. Therefore, I strongly urge all community pharmacies to review their IT disaster management plans and think about running additional backups.

Jagjit Sihota

Pharmacy Superintendent Avantgarde Pharma

Elmdon Heath, West Midlands

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, July 2017, Vol 299, No 7903;299(7903):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20202367

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