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Report says Wales needs digital push for care integration

18/01/18

Parliamentary review on health and social care includes emphasis on speeding up development of new digital solutions

Wales needs more decisive action on digital technology to speed up the integration of its health and social care sectors, according to a new report.

It is one of a number of recommendations from an expert panel brought together to produce the Parliamentary Review of Health and Social Care in Wales, which places a focus on the need for new models of care.

The prevailing message of the report is that Wales’ care system is struggling to respond to rising demand, with workforce shortages, inconsistencies in the quality of service and outcomes not improving as fast as desired. It responds with a series of recommendations aimed at building a better integrated system, one of which focuses on speeding up the development of new technology and infrastructure for the sector.

It makes the obvious point that new technologies can transform care, pointing to the potential of smartphone apps, portable diagnostic systems, robotics, artificial intelligence and others, and says there are several existing initiatives. It also commends the development of the Welsh Community Care Information System (WCCIS), which brings together information on health and social care.

Frustrations

But the authors say they heard of frustrations among users and providers of digital services, down to the root problem of the activity being too dispersed and without any unified vision and priorities. This is throwing up problems in integrating systems, information governance and cultural and behavioural issues.

The report directs its prime recommendations at the NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS), which its says should deliver the national data resource for health and care systems, finalise its design, development and service principles, and work with NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership (NWSSP) on a common business case process to support investment decisions. The two should also have a stronger national presence in the national executive.

It also outlines some supporting actions, including the mandation of common standards and platforms to support interoperability and integration, a clarification of the Welsh Government’s Once for Wales principles in regard to digital, and a general reassessment of strategic priorities.

In addition, NWIS and the Life Sciences Hub should speed up their Digital Ecosystem project to encourage innovation and the adoption of products developed. The focus in this should be on initiatives with the maximum impact and reach, and which can be readily integrated and adhere to community standards.

Informatician training

The report also emphasises the importance of training more clinical informaticians, saying it is a job for Health Education and Improvement Wales.

Dr Ruthy HusseyChair of the review panel Dr Ruth Hussey (pictured) commented: “The scale of the challenge ahead should not be underestimated. It is clear that change is needed and even clearer that this should happen quickly.

“We have detected an appetite for change and a desire to ‘get on with it’.  A strong commitment to transform not just how much is done, but what and how it is delivered is needed.

“We hope that this report will be a catalyst for the action that is needed, and help to guide the future of health and social care in Wales.”

The country’s health secretary, Vaughan Gething, said the report indicates the general direction of care integration is right, but that the Welsh Government needs to look at how it can make improvements. It plans to publish a long term strategy for health and social care in the spring, taking the report’s recommendations into account.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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