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    UK MoD Still Prescribing Dangerous Drug Raises Questions About Public Service IT

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    The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) has come under severe pressure once again in connection with the anti-malarial drug Lariam, which is banned in many countries due to its widely reported psychotic effects. However, it seems due to IT failures the drug is still being prescribed to UK troops deployed to war zones around the world.

    In May 2017, it was reported that the MoD "ignored" manufacturers' warnings by issuing service personnel the controversial anti-malarial medication Lariam, leaving staff at risk of serious psychiatric side-effects, a UK parliamentary report has found.

    The report, conducted by the Commons Defense Committee, said Lariam — also known as Mefloquine — should only be used as a "last resort" in rare circumstances when other anti-malaria drugs cannot be given to certain individuals.

    Senior military doctors have warned that failing IT equipment means that the dangerous drug, which can cause depression and hallucinations, is still being issued to military personnel despite a near total ban.

    In 2016, the military apologized for using the drug despite official warnings.

    Ministry of Defense (MoD) medical computers are reported to crash regularly. As a result the British Medical Association (BMA) is calling on the military to upgrade its systems to prevent what it calls, "frequent software crashes or total loss of IT."

    The chair of the BMA's Armed Forces Committee, Colonel Glynn Evans said in a recent interview that they have to treat real patients in real time and the system cannot keep up.

    "Even to print a prescription — it has to go such a convoluted route that it can take 30 minutes to come out, maybe from a printer in a different room. You then have the difficulty of the right prescription getting to the right patient," Colonel Evans said.

    He said that issues included not being able to access military medical records when required to see if they were able to take Lariam.

    "If you prescribe antimalarials without following the proper procedure you may end up prescribing them to someone who turns out shouldn't have had it — that is happening." 

    Outdated Systems

    The MoD is not the only government department to fall foul of IT problems.

    In May 2017, cyber criminals used malicious software to exploit a flaw in Windows operating systems and infect hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide with a fast-spreading version of WannaCry ransomware.

    The vicious cyberattack swept across the globe, hitting computers in nearly 100 countries, with Russia and the UK being among the most affected. It locked up critical systems of several high-profile organizations, including Britain's National Health Service (NHS).

    In addition to this, in June, fears were raised that Britain's largest ever warship, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, could be vulnerable to cyberattacks as the ship was thought to be using an outdated Microsoft Windows XP operating system. It has since become clear that even though Windows XP is used by certain contractors to perform certain tasks, the OS is not actually used in the running and/or operation of any of the vessels.

    In the same month however, it was uncovered that around 18,000 police computers are still running the decommissioned Windows XP, raising more cyber security fears for the Metropolitan Police.

    The UK government has plowed billions of dollars in to funding defense and healthcare services.

    In the 2017 budgetary statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, revealed that US$61 billion would be going to defense and US$191 billion to healthcare.

    However, questions remain as to why the government, whilst investing in the two sectors, is not upgrading IT systems used by medical military personnel to ensure correct information is given and patients' lives are not put at risk.

    Despite the money that is being used to fund these departments, the UK government is failing to update basic equipment — why?

    Cuts, Cuts and More Cuts

    Some sources believe the UK government isn't updating the technology used in public services because it is seen as a burden due to the costs involved, especially in those sectors which receive a substantial chunk of funding, but have still overall seen savage cuts in recent years.

    Many of the departments facing budgetary cuts include the military. Yet UK Secretary of State for Defense, Michael Fallon, in a 2016 report, said that he would ensure equipment was invested in.

    "From our overall annual defense budget — the fifth largest in the world — to our global footprint and our £178 billion (US$230bln) investment plan for equipment, it provides the key information on UK defense," Mr. Fallon said.

    However, to date the MoD is at risk of savage cuts, and in December 2016, senior defense sources disclosed that there is not enough money available for the various spending commitments already made and therefore, more savings were necessary.

    The National Health Service (NHS) is also going through the biggest financial squeeze in its history. Since 2010, its budget has effectively been frozen, increasing by just enough to cover inflation.

    In June 2017, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick warned that the force cannot afford any further cuts to its budget. As a result, the UK Home Office said it will have "detailed engagement" with police over planned funding changes.

    The budgetary cuts to the UK military, NHS, police and fire services have been on-going, however when it comes to UK defense, if the UK government is failing to ensure the IT systems used by the MoD are up to date, then this could create serious problems for national security, as well as putting troops' lives at risk — not on the battlefield, but at home. 

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    Tags:
    Lariam, medications, mental health, computers, malaria, soldiers, military, healthcare, technology, drugs, Metropolitan Police, British Army, UK Ministry of Defence, National Health Service (NHS), Michael Fallon, Europe, Britain, United Kingdom
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