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Yesterday afternoon, AMs debated the “scathing” report from the Senedd’s Public Accounts Committee into IT services within the Welsh NHS (informatics)– a summary of which can be found here.
Radical rethink required
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) pulled no punches. He described the report as “uncomfortable reading” and the Committee were seriously worried about the NHS’s inability to keep up with changes in technology, with around 1,000 fax machines still in use.
“We do not see how this can be addressed without a radical rethink. In 2016, the total cost of developing and rolling out the new systems needed across all Welsh health boards was estimated at £484 million. But the committee could find little evidence of where the money would come from and whether it would be additional NHS funding or found within existing resources. The budget NWIS operates with is utilised predominately for keep the IT system going.”
– Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay AM
He told the chamber that digital transformation requires openness and transparency from the NHS informatics service (NWIS) but this hasn’t been forthcoming, with NWIS being overly optimistic in its reporting.
Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) suggested there could be bigger problems lurking:
“We had hoped that the pace of change would have increased since the auditor general’s report a year ago. However, this is not the case. In too many cases, the NHS still relies on outdated paper-based records. NWIS is frustrated at the lack of direction from the wider NHS, but we’ve found that the NHS still does not openly recognise the scale and the depth of the problem. This may be indicative of a wider potential problem, which may reveal further matters of concern that are not yet apparent.”
– Mohammad Asghar AM
Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) returned to the lack of transparency and believe accounts of self-censorship and denial about the problems within NWIS was a “very, very serious charge”. There had to be a wholesale culture change and she welcomed a Welsh Government commitment to report back to the Committee every six months of progress made.
A shared ambition
The Welsh Government has accepted all of the Committee’s recommendations. The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), recognised concerns revolving around how quickly new IT systems were being delivered. He said an additional £50million will be invested in IT systems in the 2019-20 financial year.
There have already been some improvements and innovation:
“Our national systems allow professionals across health and care to access a single, up-to-date view of the patient’s care record and for images to be shared across Wales. The level of services is improved, time is saved and risk and cost reduced. Wales is one of the first countries to use a national test results service, meaning that test results are available where and when they’re needed, regardless of organisational boundaries.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething
The Minister was pleased to confirm there’ve been no major issues with IT systems since September 2018 and investment in cybersecurity has been stepped up.
A review of NHS informatics has been completed and is with the Welsh Government; the Minister said he’ll update AMs before Easter.