Computer call after ambulance failure

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The Independent Online
A CONSERVATIVE MP given the 'brush-off' by Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, when he warned her about the firm that supplied London Ambulance Service's software, is to demand new government rules on computer contracts.

Robert Jones wrote to Mrs Bottomley last year about disquiet in the computer industry that Systems Options, of Aldershot, Hampshire, had won the contract to supply software even though it was small and hardly known.

She did not reply and Mr Jones instead received a letter from Jim Harris, chairman of the ambulance service board, saying that all the companies involved had demonstrated their expertise.

Yesterday, the company's managing director, Jim Pedroza, and the technical director, Jules Stringer, were in talks with ambulance executives about the system's failure.

Martin Gorham, the service's acting chief executive, has pledged to investigate allegations that 20 patients may have died due to ambulances arriving late.

Mrs Bottomley told MPs there would be an external inquiry and the service would revert to computers with paper back-up. But Nupe, the public employees' union, wants the pounds 1.1m computer to be shut down completely because of earlier difficulties which allegedly led to 46 deaths.

After the contract was awarded, Mr Jones received a letter from the ambulance service chairman saying the 'evaluation process involved not only an assessment of the ability of companies to provide the specified systems in time, but also their financial status'.

The contract demanded the system be operational by the beginning of this year. Mr Stringer said in the Heath Services Journal in April: 'It was stipulated that the system would be introduced in its entirety in January. I don't believe that was realistic.' Yesterday the company refused to comment.

The January deadline was missed and the system was eventually to introduced in three stages. It crashed in March when the first and second phases were brought on line together, and again on Monday and Tuesday when the service introduced phase three.

Yesterday Mr Jones said he would demand the introduction of procedures to ensure that companies awarded contracts where lives could be at risk were sufficiently experienced. 'I plan to take it straight back to the Secretary of State since it was she who was responsible for giving me the brush- off in the first place.'