… Passwords (or “Chris Tarrant and the curse of NHS I.T.”)

I hate passwords.

And if I’ve held that opinion for too long:  I hate passwords 1.

I’m sure it’s not just the NHS where this happens, but I now need three different passwords just to get my computer started in the morning: medical records, hospital correspondence and prescriptions (four if you count the keypad to get in the front door, five if you count the code to get into the kitchen for a coffee, six if I’m in first and have to do the alarm).

I need all three systems to do my job, but like stroppy teenagers each one refuses to communicate with the others:  I get hospital correspondence asking me if I wouldn’t mind telling prescriptions that a consultant wants a change in medications.  “She’s just there!” I say.  “Tell her yourself!”

But no.  “No, I’m not talking to her!  You’ll have to tell her.”

One of the worst bits is the jeopardy while waiting to see if the computer is going to accept the password this morning.  It’s like “Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire?” but with more questions and less prize money.

Me:  Password64

Chris:  Final answer?

Me:  Final answer, Chris.

Chris:  OK.  You said Password64.

Me:  I know.

Chris:  Confident?

Me:  Hurry up Chris

Chris:  You’re absolutely….  wrong!

No way!  Piss off, Chris!  This was definitely right yesterday. 

Or have I changed it? 

I do the password equivalent of trying every key I have in the lock.  Password63… wrong.  Password65…Wrong.  Lower case password64… Wrong.  Try Password64 again…  Please wait.  The system is loading. 

What?  You absolute git!

And while it’s finally loading up, I have a little time to make a coffee, have a poo or watch the first three hours of “Lawrence of Arabia” before it wheezes and splutters reluctantly into life like a chain-smoking asthmatic guilt-tripped in to entering a fun run. 

Unless it needs an update then a message pings up saying it looks like a big job, gov’ner, and it may be ready for me to start work next Tuesday if it can get the parts, but it’s not promising anything.

You see, NHS computer passwords are like the Enigma machine.  Due to extreme technical wizardry and mechanical jiggery pokery, once you enter a correct password a cog turns, there’s a click deep inside and your password automatically changes.  I then depend on a crack team of World War 2 boffins with pipes and tank- tops played by Benedict Cumberbatch who I keep in a Nissen Hut in the carpark to crack tomorrow’s password for me.

On very rare occasions I hit the perfect zone when I know all my work passwords at the same time.  I’m not saying they’re all the same because that would be poor cyber security, but let’s just say they’re thematically and numerically connected.

Then one of them asks for a password update.


Now, why the prescription software feels it needs a security update more regularly than the hospital correspondence or the GP records is beyond me, but I grudgingly set a new password and off it blasts into orbit. 

Then hospital records complain that if prescriptions have a new password, they want one too, so it’s another change and another zoom off into orbit but this time on a slightly different trajectory.

Finally primary care records catches up, and asks where everyone else has gone.  So it gets a new password out of sympathy and is itself launched into orbit on a third, longer arc. 

And again, at some point in the future, every few thousand years, all the passwords will align once more, and peace will reign.

But in the meantime, the passwords change at very slightly different speeds, only noticeable when you’re too far committed, like when the handrail moves at a different speed to the escalator and you realise you’re moving at an increasingly steep angle until you reach your destination or take a faceplant outside Claire’s Accessories.

There’s also the balancing act between having a password that protects and a password I can remember.  To use the lock and key analogy it’s the difference between a keypad with a rotating system of passwords based on a cipher word with a series of discontiguous randomly generated numbers and special characters with co-existing thumbprint recognition and retinal scanning, versus holding a door propped shut with a trainer.  The complex system is more secure but less good when I forget my password (let alone my thumbs or eyes). 

But the shame and embarrassment when I have to tell the IT manager the code for my keycard for updates!

“O.K.  Are you taking this down?  It’s one…”


“Yeah what?”



“It’s not very secure.”

Maybe not.  But the way I figure it, if you’ve already stolen my keys, got into the building, disabled the alarm, cracked my log-in code and picked my pocket for my smart card, then by the time a crook has waited forty-five minutes for my computer to log on that’s more than enough time for me to raise the alarm and summon the police. 

And if it’s an update day maybe stop for a brew on the way.

5 thoughts on “… Passwords (or “Chris Tarrant and the curse of NHS I.T.”)

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