THE flawed computer booking system at the Royal Berkshire Hospital has plunged it into an �18m financial crisis.

The hospital's board of directors announced today that the Cerner Millenium Electronic Patient Record (EPR) has cost �28.5m to purchase, develop and run - but it has been valued at just �10m, leaving hospital bosses grappling to plug an �18m loss.

Chief executive Ed Donald told the meeting today: "We have to invest in digital records and it is something we will continue to use. Yes, we want to get it better and we will work to get it better, and make it affordable."

The system, launched a year ago, is meant to retrieve patient details in seconds, taking a few moments to link them to the availability of surgeons, beds or therapies. But it has been plagued with problems, taking staff up to 15 minutes to navigate their way through multiple screens to book routine appointments and leading to severe backlogs on wards and outpatient clinics.

In total, the hospital will write off �27.3m from last year's accounts - �18m from the EPR, �6.3m in carrying value of some land and buildings, and �3m in IT assets which are now obsolete.

The board's finance director, Craig Anderson, admitted the EPR poses a "risk" to the budget for 2013/14. The system cost �7.4m last year - smashing the �2.5m budget - and is expected to cost �5.1m this year. When quizzed on whether the cost will rise above this, Mr Anderson said: "My personal view is that it is within the remit to manage the running rate at �5m per annum."

Mr Donald will announce the news to the hospital's governors at a meeting tonight, but said "important lessons" had been learned and stressed the trust is committed to reducing costs and improving the system. He added: "Our decision to implement a new records system was made for sound reasons with the interests and benefits for patients as the priority.

"However, development and deployment is a massive task and such systems are complex and challenging. Unfortunately, implementing the EPR system has at times been a difficult process and we acknowledge that we did not fully appreciate the challenges and resources required in a number of areas."