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Wales’ digital healthcare chief outlines priorities

16/03/22

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Helen Thomas
Image source: Digital Health and Care Wales

Wales’ healthcare sector needs to build on its rapid progress in building digital services during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the official at the forefront of the effort.

Helen Thomas, chief executive of Digital Health and Care Wales (DHCW) outlined a number of its priorities at the Digital Health Rewired conference, saying there is a potential to build on the successes achieved during the pandemic.

“We have to be a national organisation focused on the foundations to drive it forward,” she said, adding: “We have to re-imagine the way we’re developing and delivering services.

“The bit for me was that the digital response to Covid was great, the way we were able to drive it forward in Wales, and the light went on for how digital

“But we can’t expect our staff to continue working at the pace they’ve been working at and we have to find different ways of unlocking that and working more digitally oriented ways.”

Foundations for technology

She said the role of DHWC is to put in place foundations to ensure the technology is available, and highlighted a plan to further develop the digital system to support the Covid-19 vaccination programme as a broader national vaccination system.

“We’ve shown that nationally we can support in a federated way how mass vaccinations work – it works a lot better for us than we’ve been able to do previously – so what are the opportunities for us to have a national vaccination and immunisation service supported by a national system.

“There could also be a national vaccine record for every resident of Wales.

Another priority is the development of a national e-prescribing system, which Thomas described as a “missing link” with a continued reliance on paper prescriptions from GPs to pharmacists.

This was included in a slide she showed on elements of a digital integrated care record, along with a new emergency department systems, a Welsh intensive care system to replace paper charts and handwritten observations, a hospital pharmacy system, a radiology solution including a picture archiving service, integrated digital records for the care of cancer patients, and a Welsh patient administration system.

Plans for app

Thomas said there are also plans for an NHS Wales App similar to that available from NHS England.

“We want the systems and services for citizens to be able to interact with their own health and care records and services,” Thomas said. “So a huge priority for us this year is the development of the NHS Wales App that will open up so many opportunities in the use of digital channels.

“We’ll do that with an open architecture, a standards based approach, with an investment in line to a prize capability.”

She also acknowledged two major challenge in the need to keep up cyber security defences and to attract people with digital skills to the sector when it struggle to provide salaries close to those in offer in the private sector. There is some scope to counter the latter with an “emotional driver” but this cannot be taken for granted.

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