Helen Thomas is CEO of Digital Health and Care Wales, the special health authority that supports the digital transformation of the NHS in Wales. With digital technology playing a growing role in the NHS in Wales and a vital part of the recovery of Covid-19, Helen discusses what this means for the people of Wales and the future of our healthcare. .
The word “unprecedented” has certainly been overused throughout the pandemic, but when it comes to health and care, the impact of Covid-19 has been unmatched. Over the last 18 months, the way we access and offer health care has completely changed.
At the onset of the crisis, there was a rapid demand for digital technology to allow vital services to continue to operate, while reducing face-to-face contact. In Wales, an organization has underpinned these digital efforts, which has allowed the NHS Wales to continue to operate, tailor services and deliver its world-leading vaccine launch.
Digital Health and Care Wales officially released as a new special health authority in April 2021, when Wales emerged from an exhausting winter blockade. Formerly the NHS Wales Informatics Service, an organization that provided the technology infrastructure to enable patient care, the change reflects the increasingly important role of digital health and care at the forefront of the NHS Wales.
As we emerge from the pandemic and begin to recover and rebuild our health services, it is important to reflect on the instrumental role that digital services and technology played in our response to the pandemic and to consider the role of digital health in the future. . There were over 5,000 GP video consultations each week and Digital Platform and Care Wales designed, developed and implemented a national contact location platform, the most successful in the UK, for the people of Wales.
Taking into account successes and innovations can ultimately help us develop appropriate digital healthcare services and technology for the future.
Taking advantage of existing digital services
At the start of the first blockade, while public health professionals were still learning and assessing the risks of the Covid-19 virus, we turned to some of the existing digital services in the NHS in Wales to continue to support the delivery of care. under immense pressure. He Welsh Clinical Portal (WCP) is one of these services. Developed in its first iteration in 2012, the system allows healthcare workers across Wales to access patient data, gathering information from all Welsh health boards and relying on a digital system that can be accessed from from anywhere using your mobile app. The WCP stores more than 200 million test records for more than 3 million people, including test results, images and scans, and is now used by more than 29,000 NHS health professionals in Wales. This type of digital information exchange became even more necessary throughout the pandemic, as it allowed medical professionals to have all the information they needed, wherever they were working.
Another platform, Choose Pharmacy, allows community pharmacists to keep a record of each patient, allowing them to support people with health issues or even dispense emergency medications. This capacity became more important through the pandemic, as pharmacies kept their doors open to patients, while many family doctor consultations provided more services remotely. Local pharmacies have continued to play a vital role in providing care during the pandemic, providing advice and maintaining essential services to the community while under enormous pressure.
These services were able to adapt as the pandemic unfolded and became key to supporting the NHS in responding to COVID-19, as healthcare professionals and patients relied more than ever on digital services.
Development of new services to support the response to the pandemic
As we came to understand the virus, new services were needed to facilitate crucial responses, such as testing, contact tracking, and ultimately vaccine deployment. The Digital Health and Care Wales team responded quickly to design, develop and deliver these services across Wales.
During the early months of the pandemic, the team developed the infrastructure used in the test centers to improve testing capacity, as well as the software needed for laboratories to receive swab samples safely. A new application was also initially created to allow receiving and recording antibody test data.
Now, Wales is known for its world-leading vaccination program. With 75% of the population having received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine so far, the UK is the second most vaccinated country in the world behind Canada. And Wales leads the UK countries: 73% of the total population has received the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine and 67% have received the second dose. Invitations are now also being sent to 16- and 17-year-olds to get the first dose of vaccine *.
This success is the foundation Welsh Immunization System, the digital system launched in December 2020 to create, schedule and record vaccination appointments, which allows you to administer vaccines as effectively as possible.
The Digital Health and Care Wales team has also been working on data sharing agreements between England and Wales to provide the information needed for Pass NHV COVID, allowing travelers abroad to demonstrate their vaccination status.
The next steps for digital healthcare in Wales
As we move forward, the role of digital health and care in the NHS Wales will continue to be equally important for the recovery of our health services, for the expansion and improvement of existing services and the development of us.
A key priority for Digital Health and Care Wales will be the incorporation of cancer services into the single register (Clinical Portal of Wales). Other priorities are to support the referral process in eye care and use digital to improve the electronic prescription.
The pandemic has also raised new public awareness and interest in the importance of data, with daily coronavirus figures and analyzes dominating headlines. DHCW’s current Welsh Data Hub is a single access point for healthcare and healthcare intelligence products and data, and the Covid-19 Data Hub was created to provide timely data and information at a central source, allowing the NHS to understand and predict demand.
It is part of our long-term strategy for health and social care in Wales to provide more accessible digital solutions that enable patients and the public to play an active role in managing their own health, and this goal it has only been reinforced by the pandemic. Based on this, NHS Wales is developing a new platform that will allow people to choose the healthcare services they want to use through an app from their mobile device, which will make support more accessible than ever.
It is clear that digital information and technology have played a key role in enabling the safe and continuous operation of Welsh health services and the development of new infrastructure to meet the demands of the pandemic. As we recover and plan for the future, we must continue to ensure that digital is at the heart of our NHS and seize the opportunities for digital transformation in health and care.
* correct figure in August 2021