A Freedom of Information request from Citrix has revealed that most IT equipment in the NHS is still reliant on Windows XP.
Citrix is an American multinational software company that provides server, application and desktop virtualization, networking, software as a service, and cloud computing technologies.
While this particular version of the Microsoft operating system was acclaimed at the time, the software giant has since stopped delivering bug fixes and security updates.
Thus it can only be considered a massive security risk.
Windows XP was released the way back in 2001, which underlines just how dated the NHS IT infrastructure currently seems to be.
Citrix found that 90% of NHS trusts continue to rely on PCs installed with the now defunct desktop operating system.
And data also indicated that approximately 50% of those still utilising Windows XP do not know when they will switch to an alternative operating system.
14% believed that the move to a new operating system would occur by the end of this year, while 29% suggested that the move would happen “some time” in 2017.
In order for Windows systems to be secure from such threats as hackers and malware, users must upload regular updates.
However, for commercial reasons, Microsoft ceases support for older versions of its operating system over time.
And Windows XP is now among the operating system versions that the corporation will no longer provide support for.
This means that many computers across the NHS system are completely vulnerable to various activity.
Citrix received responses from 42 of the 63 NHS trusts when submitting the Freedom of Information request.
This followed a previous study back in July 2014, which found at that time that 100% of trusts were reliant on Windows XP.
Clearly there has been minimal progress on this issue since then.
Microsoft in fact ceased support for Windows XP back in April 2014, and large swathes of public sector IT infrastructure has failed to catch up with this issue.
At this time, the government had agreed a temporary framework support agreement with Microsoft, which effectively guaranteed delivery of special security patches for a 12-month period.
But this ceased in April 2015, although individual government departments and agencies are free to sign agreements with Microsoft.
However, it is clear that Windows XP is effectively an obsolete system, and moving to new versions of Windows must be considered a priority for the NHS.
As the NHS continues on its journey towards becoming a paperless organisation by 2018, a new initiative is helping keep medical records secure and free from paper.
Pearl Scan Solutions is playing a significant role in assisting GP surgeries, health trusts and hospital departments with the implementation of electronic storage systems.
This is a particularly important programme for the NHS, as it is estimated by the government that the cost of physical paper storage is somewhere in the region of £500,000 and £1 million per year for each healthcare trust.
As part of its arrangement with Pearl Scan Solutions, every patient in the NHS will be provided with a barcode in order to streamline operations in the healthcare service.
It is also suggested that NHS apps could be developed in the near future, which will enable people to book appointments and order prescriptions via their smartphones or other mobile devices.
Research has suggested that a fluent and intuitive digital system could help save the NHS millions of pounds every year.
Such an initiative would enable medication errors to be reduced, allow storage space to be generated, and ultimately save on both time and resources.
It is also thought that an NHS-wide revolution into digital storage systems could help cut down on administration errors and further improve data protection.
One recent such example of this came from a hospital in Essex. Goodmayes Hospital in Illford accidentally sent a patient’s entire personal medical record to another person via the post.
The patient in question was perturbed by the accidental leaking of sensitive information.
Speaking about the initiative with the NHS, Naveen Ashraf, managing director of Pearl Scan Solutions, pointing out that medical records can easily go awry in what is a pressurised environment.
“Medical records are strictly private and confidential, so this story highlights what can go wrong in busy NHS environments with an overworked workforce,” Ashraf stated.
Ashraf also took time to outline the benefits of a paperless office environment.
“Medical staff make mistakes too, they are only human – but by having a paperless NHS, we can further safeguard patients and ensure all medical records are safe and secure. They are also much more easily accessible, which will speed up treatment and generally improve care across the board,” Ashraf asserted.
As the NHS continues the transformation into the digital age, it is expected that hospitals, surgeries, dentists and other medical organisations will become much more efficient.
With pressure on NHS budgets, it was suggested by the existing Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that paperless working within the NHS could save £4.4 billion.
Regardless of the validity of these claims, it is broadly accepted that paperless working is more efficient, and the NHS is indeed committed to instigating this form of operation.