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Hospital patients at risk of serious harm and medical negligence due to IT issues at NHS Trusts in England

Ninety per cent of NHS Trusts have access to an electronic patient record system. The aim of the systems is for everything about that patient to be accessed and actioned at the click of a button. 

Electronic systems are used by the NHS for accessing key patient information, recording patient progress, prescribing and administering medication, correspondence between primary and secondary care providers, and correspondence with patients. A functioning and reliable electronic system is therefore vital in providing appropriate medical care.

BBC investigation into hospital IT systems

However, a recent BBC investigation found IT system failures have been linked to the deaths of three patients and more than 100 instances of serious harm at NHS hospital trusts in England.

Following Freedom of Information Act requests to acute NHS hospital trusts in England, the BBC reported that over half of those that responded had issues with their computer systems which could affect patient care. 

Darnell Smith's story

One family to have been affected by IT issues was Darnell Smith’s. Darnell had sickle cell disease, cerebral palsy and was non-verbal. He died aged 22 after staff carried out checks once in 12 hours.

Following his death Darnell’s parents asked Irwin Mitchell to represent them at an inquest into his death and help establish answers

The inquest was told that healthcare professionals had problems accessing Darnell’s computerised personalised care plan and this was only accessed several hours after his admission to hospital. 

The care plan contained key information about his existing medical conditions and needs. 

The senior coroner stated that without knowledge or sight of a care plan, there was a real risk of future deaths. The Trust caring for Darnell told the coroner that it was implementing a new IT system to allow for better access to patient records to ensure that key patient information was visible when they attend hospital. We continue to support Darnell’s family following his sad death. 

Historic IT issues

However, issues with NHS computer systems have also been widely reported in the past. In 2017, an investigation at Nottingham University Hospitals revealed that more than 400,000 letters and crucial medical documents prepared by senior doctors had not been sent to GPs or added to a patient’s electronic record. The documents dated as far back as 2000. 

In September 2023, a similar issue was discovered in Newcastle where around 24,000 letters were not sent due to a new computer system. The letters contained critical information about test and scan results. 


Darnell’s case and the alarming findings of the investigations by the BBC highlight the importance of having a functioning IT system in the provision of healthcare. It’s crucial that more action is taken to ensure that healthcare workers have access to all relevant information in electronic patient records, so important details are not missed and the risk of harm is minimised.

Find out more about our expertise in supporting patients and families affected by care issues at our dedicated medical negligence section

More information about the BBC's investigation is available on its website.