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Northern Ireland gets new digital strategy for health and social care

Robin Swann
Image source: Robin Swann from, Open Government Licence

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has published a digital strategy for health and social care, including plans for a new delivery centre, a digital care record and a single system for imaging and information management.

It also involves six strategic outcomes and plans for a cyber operations centre, data institute and innovation hub, with a delivery and review schedule to run through to 2030.

The document has been published along with more detailed strategies for cyber security and data, with another for innovation scheduled to become available in the next few days.

It says the digital delivery centre will provide the governance for product management, user research and service design, user experience, software development, agile project delivery and management, scale and deployment and continuous improvement.

The planned launch date is in the 2024-25 financial year and it will work within HSC Digital.

Cyber security plan

Other new bodies will include a cyber operations centre within the Health and Social Care Business Services Organisation, with responsibility for centralising and managing predictive, preventative and responsive measures to secure digital systems. This will involve looking at cyber issues from multiple angles and providing layered security systems.

An HSC Data Institute will centralise data management with the aims of reducing duplication of effort, delivering improvements for analysts and ensuring the better co-ordination of resources.

There will also be an HSC innovation hub to manage processes such as horizon scanning, proof of concept work, funding, solution development and pilot assessments. The strategy says it will develop a standardised innovation pathway with clear governance.

The document also highlights the plan for a new digital care record for every citizen to support joined up care, based on the Epic application for medical records and a patient portal.

This will be accompanied by the modernisataion of pathology services with a new laboratory information management system (LIMS) and the roll out of a ‘Once for NI’ digital imaging and diagnostics platform.

Ambitions for outcomes

The initiatives will be underpinned by six strategic outcomes on: giving people greater visibility and control over treatment and care journeys; the quality and safety of new processes and systems; joined up care through systems integration and streamlined information flows; standardised systems; intelligent use of data; and an acceleration of research and innovation.

The timetable involves implementation of the strategy over the next three years, with a first review planned for 2025 and a second in 2028, both as a basis for iterations, then a debrief and refresh work in 2030.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “This new landmark strategy has the potential to change how the general public use health and social care services in Northern Ireland.

“We will use technology to unlock opportunities for improvements across the entire system. We will be able to provide more personalised care, including full visibility of health data and care pathways, moving towards precision medicine to identify the best approaches and care pathways for everyone.

“People will be able to feel the real benefits of this strategy, including easier online communications, virtual assistance and consultations, as well as the ability to view their personal health record. Throughout Covid we saw the importance of digital interventions in our overall response and we want to harness the increased digital uptake experienced during the pandemic to deliver excellent services more sustainably.”

In March Dan West, Northern Ireland’s chief digital and information officer for health and care, highlighted 13 key projects in advance of the strategy’s publication, including the delivery of the Epic electronic medical records system across the sector.

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