Health boards fed up with Telecom

XT outages 'putting patients at risk', Telecom contract suspended at one DHB

Wellington's district health board is suspending its contract with Telecom after senior board staff said outages with its troubled XT network were putting patients at risk.

Hutt Valley District Health Board is also considering cancelling its Telecom contract, with acting chief executive Michael Hundleby saying the board had completely lost confidence in the XT service.

Capital & Coast District Health Board chief executive Ken Whelan told a board meeting yesterday he was "very disappointed with [Telecom's] performance".

"We are looking at some alternatives for the next few months, and then we'll see what happens."

Three major disruptions to Telecom's new XT network this year have cost the company $15 million in compensation after thousands of customers were left without mobile services.

Among them were "hundreds" of Capital & Coast staff, many of them doctors, Whelan said.

"As a health provider, where communication is vital, we've expressed concerns ... and have been talking to [Telecom] to try to get some assurances that going forward it's all sweet. We haven't had that assurance."

The board would seek to temporarily suspend its contract with Telecom in favour of another mobile provider, probably Vodafone. The board's chief medical officer, Geoff Robinson, said about 400 doctors, many of them on the XT network, relied on their cellphones to be called to help with acute cases.

He was not aware of any cases at Capital & Coast in which lives had been threatened because of the network outages, but said it could happen. "There's a potentially huge risk if people are not contactable."

Whelan said he hoped Telecom would not try to charge the health board contract break fees.

"They've got an unstable network. I would be very, very disappointed if they tried to penalise us for trying to stabilise our network."

Telecom were unable to give a response last night.

Hutt Valley DHB has 49 staff that use the XT network, including some "critical clinical staff" who were affected by the recent outages.

Hundleby said the board was appalled that Telecom had not contacted them when XT problems happened.

"They can't guarantee service. We have doctors on call who could be involved in emergencies — it's just not safe," he said.

"We have completely lost confidence with the system and are asking Telecom to get us ... off that network. The risk is too high."

The board was looking at other suppliers, Hundleby said.

Elsewhere, hospitals have reverted to older technology until the XT network can be fixed. Doctors at Wairau Hospital in Blenheim went back to using pagers last month while some doctors at Hawke's Bay District Health Board reverted to Telecom's old CDMA network.

Auckland and Tairawhiti district health boards said they already held contracts with Vodafone.

A Vodafone spokesman said the company could not provide figures of how many new customers it had gained since the XT failures on February 17 and 22. "It's been phenomenal though. We've had to fly extra salespeople in, to the South Island in particular."

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