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Northern Ireland digital chief for health and care highlights key projects

Dan West
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Northern Ireland’s chief digital and information office for health and care has highlighted 13 key projects as crucial elements of its forthcoming strategy.

Speaking at the Digital Health Rewired conference this week, Dan West said the document is scheduled for publication in April, before purdah sets in for elections in the province, to underpin the broader Health and Wellbeing 2026 strategy.

“Northern Ireland has the most ambitious digital transformation journey set out ahead of it than any part of the UK,” he said, adding: “Our digital strategy recognises that all the techy stuff is a bit irrelevant if we can’t foster the culture change needed in the system to re-imagine the relationship between the patient and their health and care team.

“It’s about people at the heart of everything we do, as empowered partners in their healthcare experiences, and using digital tools and data as the stimulus and opportunity to transform towards a system for all Northern Ireland services.”

He highlighted 13 of around 70 programme projects, including the deployment of the Epic electronic medical records system across acute, mental health, community services and social care.

Supporting delivery

“This will create a single, longitudinal data system to support the delivery of all those systems of care across all of our five trusts,” he said. “It will be accessible by GPs and patients. The Epic pie chart portal will be renamed in Northern Ireland and offered by all systems to engage and provide qualitative information on outcomes.

“That’s really exciting; it’s our biggest investment.”

This is accompanied by the implementation of a CliniSys system for pathology modernisation, a move to a Sectra second generation medical imaging platform, the deployment of England’s electronic transmission of prescriptions platform, and a patient relationship platform for community pharmacies.

Other steps include: the replacement of the Health and Care Number Index application and the Northern Ireland instance of Haze by a master data management platform underpinned by the DXC Enterprise stack; a technology enabled care programme to be extended beyond the current focus on primary care; a back office transformation based on a single cloud ERP system; and using the citizen digital identification tool developed as part of the Covid-19 response.

The strategy will also involve setting up: a shared service organisation named HSC Digital for IT teams across the province; a cyber operations centre; a health and social care data institute; and a digital innovation institute.

Several challenges

West also identified a number of challenges, among them that the workforce is suffering fatigue from the pressures of dealing with the pandemic and that people “need a chance to breath”.

There is also a need for a long term budget position to support investment, becoming more coherent in in communicating the change to the workforce, and the familiar pressures of recruiting and retaining skilled staff.

He also emphasised the need for a “cultural pivot”, in which people do not see all this as about IT systems replacement but as a stimulus for the transformation, and the need to deal with transformation bottlenecks in trusts.

“Clinical leaders and HR directors are involved to a greater or lesser extent in every one of these change programmes, and if we don’t figure out what extra capacity they need to contribute in a meaningful and coherent way to that portfolio of change we’re going to really struggle,” he said.


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