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Written Statement - eHealth and Care in Wales

Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services

Today’s information world is fast, flexible and mobile. The way we interact with each other and with services is constantly evolving.  People now use forums and social media to discuss, share, and solve common problems, and to offer their own reviews and opinions. People rightly expect health and care providers to offer more interactive, personalised services with effective communication between professionals and users of services.

I am keen to see our focus on prudent healthcare using similar technology to support effective treatment and help professionals and patients work as partners.

Information is essential to this.

It is important that appropriate information is accessible and seen as an asset to all those involved in health, care and support for people, while firmly maintaining our “once for Wales” approach. This includes ensuring we are able to access our own information relating to our health and care needs to enable us to be in control of our own health and well-being and to play an active role in decisions about the services, care and support we need.

I am today announcing a refresh of our policy on eHealth and Care in Wales and the start of an update of our information technology strategy to ensure the people of Wales, the NHS, health and social care can take advantage of the benefits that improved technology and information offer.

We have the advantage of being able to build on our current strategy to ensure that we are ready for the future and able to use technology to do things better. Our strategy will be informed by clinical input and engagement with health and social care professionals and by users of these services.

Background

Our ground-breaking ‘Informing Healthcare’ programme has been running since 2003 and has delivered some of the key foundations on which to build and operate our services, including:

  •  Two thirds of all GP practices offer online booking through the ‘My Health Online’ service, making it easier to make appointments and order repeat prescriptions;
  • More than half of all patient referrals by GPS for specialist hospital care are now sent electronically and the number is increasing each month. Almost all referrals in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board are sent electronically;
  • Through the Individual Health Record, 84 per cent of GP records are available for use in GP out-of-hours services;
  • We have a national organisation, NWIS (National Health Service Wales Informatics Service), able to deliver national projects and support the national infrastructure.


This “once for Wales” approach can enable us to deliver efficiency and value, through not duplicating effort in different parts of the country, as a recent review of informatics in the NHS in Wales confirmed.

Way forward

We want to build on the key principles of the Informing Healthcare programme to respond to the new and emerging service and societal needs. To do this we need to exploit new technological opportunities and novel approaches to implementation while at all times ensuring that confidential and sensitive patient information is secure.

I therefore intend to develop a new eHealth and Care strategy and supporting programmes, in conjunction with health boards, NHS trusts and local authorities in Wales.

This will help us achieve our aim of ensuring there are more services, care and support available for patients in their homes or in their local communities.

Technology has a key role to play. This could include the use of video conferencing to allow patients and health professionals to talk to each other; to aid diagnosis and decision making and remote monitoring for people with particular health conditions. Technology can also help improve access to services by bringing them closer to people’s homes, for example by providing mobile services in rural areas.

With an increasing ageing population it is essential we enable people to live independently for as long as possible. Without this, the health and wellbeing of individuals will be adversely affected.

We will expect our information to be accessible to professionals where and when it is needed whether in health or in social care. We already have the Individual Health Record, with appropriate security and governance in place. Any potential wider access to people’s data would only be with their consent.

Our aim will be to:

  • make it easier to communicate with the NHS, to help us manage our own health and wellbeing, and to become more active participants in and co-producers of health and care;
  • support the move to a greater focus on prevention, quality care and patient-agreed outcomes;
  • ensure best value from our investments;
  • contribute to care integration within and across organisations and to support people with long-term conditions, and
  • improve access to services, particularly for people living in rural areas and remote communities.

This will require data, information and technology to be accessible and fit for purpose.

I want to see this eHealth and Care strategy help us redesign and improve services, and ensuring that the people of Wales benefit from those improvements.  

The strategy, which will be developed during this year, must be created through partnerships, across organisations, with professionals and citizens.

To maintain momentum and focus, I will chair an Informatics Board and officials are reviewing governance arrangements to ensure they are streamlined, transparent and effective.

While the focus of the new eHealth and Care strategy will move strongly to outcomes, how technology is organised and delivered remains important.   We will continue to have a National Programme planned and aligned with front line service delivery and in close iteration with the improvement planning processes in health boards and workforce development.

Conclusion

Our opportunity now is to focus on how eHealth and Care can help us to manage demand, empower us to take a more active role in decisions about our health and care, and deliver better quality services in the most effective and efficient way.

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.