Many reports have reached us since the start of the year of catastrophic IT failures in the NPS with the worst incidents occurring over the last seven days. Many CRC members will be familiar with ongoing IT outages and our members in CAFCASS will remember the terrible consequences of an IT failure following the introduction of their paperless system.
At yesterday’s Trade Union Engagement Meeting, Napo made strong representations about the chaos with the employer. Fortunately they were able to confirm that there is no truth in the rumour of hacking or external attacks on the system, but that a major glitch has occurred as a result of a system upgrade affecting 45,000 users across the NPS and wider Civil Service. Whilst accepting the reassurances that everything possible is being done to rectify the fault (which is obviously taking a lot longer than anticipated with further problems being reported to us), we made it very clear that the failures are having a serious impact on staff in the NPS. We also understand that the problems have affected some CRC operations where members have advised us that important case data is not reaching end users.
As you would expect, we pointed out the serious risk issues in relation to no information being available about callers to offices, the inability to safely share information with other agencies and practitioners being unable to make informed risk assessments. We also pointed out the duty that all employers have under health and safety at work legislation to take action to mitigate these risks and for staff to protect themselves. We also highlighted the extreme pressure this will place on members already facing unacceptable workloads, where the failure of the basic tools can be the final straw.
We received assurances that messages will be coming to staff from the employer very soon to apologise for the situation and recognise the impact this is having on them. We have asked for pro-active measures to be taken to ensure that members are not held responsible for failing to meet targets during periods of IT failures. We have also secured an agreement that to support this, the central log of IT failures will be made available to line managers around the time that they will be expected to have meetings with staff for the SPDR process. We have also been assured that all business continuity planning will be reviewed to put into place contingency processes to protect staff and the public. Finally, we have been assured that there will be a high level discussion with the Director of Probation about how to manage the inevitable backlog of work and we expect more news soon about when this will take place.
Meanwhile, we wanted to offer members some general advice on coping with IT failures, whatever your employer.
- Keep a log of the issues to use if required to explain failures to meet targets at a later date
- In the event of a total lack of access to client information union reps should hold an emergency health and safety meeting to ask local managers what steps are being taken to ensure the safety of staff, clients and the public
- If you have a laptop and work at home or at another location to catch up with essential tasks, record all time spent working appropriately on your timesheet, even if out of usual working hours
- If you work from an alternative location make sure that you protect your own health and safety. This includes making sure that you have an appropriate workspace, for some members it may not be possible to work from an alternative location due to their specific needs or specialist equipment. You will also need to ensure you can maintain data security and follow employer policies on this. If in doubt you should report to your line manager that you are unable to complete work and unable to follow the suggestion to work from home / an alternative location because of these concerns.
- If you use your personal mobile phone (or other device) for data or calls be aware that this may incur a cost. Our advice is not to incur any personal costs unless you have written agreement that this will be reimbursed by the employer.
- Where you face workload pressures due to IT failures follow the advice on workloads on our website here https://www.napo.org.uk/workloads You may need to fill in a foreseeability notice (also available on the same page) and a stress risk assessment (following your employer’s process).
- Remember to raise the issue in supervision with your line manager and make sure it is recorded in the notes of the meeting. Remember that, while your manager is not responsible for the IT failure, it is their responsibility to work with you to identify what essential tasks need to be (or can be) completed and what tasks cannot be done. Any plan made should be recorded (handwritten if necessary).
Ian Lawrence Katie Lomas
General Secretary National Chair
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