The Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre, which was affected by technical issues with a new computerised booking system.
Staff at one of Melbourne's largest hospital networks say a new computerised booking system has wreaked havoc over the past year, causing untold distress for vulnerable people and putting lives at risk.
Senior Austin Health employees have told Fairfax Media that the new Patient Choice Booking service at the Austin Hospital and Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre has caused scores of patients to miss crucial appointments with specialists responsible for their care.
This included seriously ill patients, such as organ transplant recipients, cancer patients and those with infectious diseases such as TB and HIV who needed to be seen at particular times to receive continuing tests, medications and other treatment.
When the system was introduced last May, hospital management cancelled about 49,000 future patient bookings with specialist doctors and sent these patients letters advising them of the cancellations and a new booking system.
Under the new regime, patients would receive a letter offering them an appointment around the time that they were previously due to come in.
When they received this letter of offer, they were told to call the hospital if they wanted to negotiate a different time. The letter, which was allegedly only written in English, said patients who needed an interpreter should call to organise one.
Unlike the old system where patients could make bookings up to two years in advance, the new system was meant to provide patients with greater flexibility and reduce the number of patients cancelling, rescheduling or not showing up.
But according to angry staff, the system has been a ''complete disaster'', with many patients either not receiving their letters or not understanding them. This has allegedly caused scores of patients to not attend their appointments or show up at the wrong time.
One hospital source said the people most likely to be lost in the system were elderly patients and those who did not speak English, because they did not understand the letters sent to them.
''Numerous patients have suffered, there is no question of that, we just hope no one has died,'' said the staff member who did not want to be named.
Another said: ''I wouldn't be surprised if someone had died''.
Leaked documents also revealed:
■ The system failed to account for some specialists' annual leave and public holidays, causing patients to show up to unstaffed clinics.
■ Confused patients waited longer than 40 minutes on the phone to get through to overwhelmed hospital staff before being hung up on.
■ The health service has received so many complaints, it stopped sending them to the patient complaints department.
■ People who have travelled to the hospitals on wrong dates are being compensated for their costs.
But Austin Health spokeswoman Taryn Sheehy said although there had been some technical issues, the allegation that patients may have been harmed was ''extraordinary and completely untrue''.
''Despite an extensive testing period, there were a number of technical issues that led to the system not performing as specified during the first few months of implementation in 2013. This disrupted some services and resulted in confusion for some patients. None of these issues compromised patient safety or delayed any urgent surgical procedures,'' she said.
''We have apologised to patients and their families for the confusion and upset that was caused. Technical issues with the software have been resolved and the system is now able to be refined as required.''
Ms Sheehy said while the system was superior to the previous one and had reduced the rate at which patients fail to attend appointments by 27 per cent this year, ''a comprehensive external review of the system and its implementation, that has involved staff and patients, is nearing completion. This will assist in determining if further enhancements are required.''
Have you experienced Austin Health's new booking system? Tell us about your experience by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.