Welsh Health Minister denies rollout of NHS clinical portal as bad as in England

THE Welsh Health Minister has spoken out to defend the Assembly Government’s plans for a national NHS clinical portal, denying it will suffer the same fate as the English system, which faces the axe amid allegations that £2.7billion has been wasted.

Last week HES revealed that MPs in England are calling on the coalition to scrap the £7billion NHS care records scheme, claiming it has failed to deliver what it set out to do and has wasted huge amounts of public money.

From the start we wanted the best value for money, so our aim was to make as much use as possible of the computers and systems that we already had, combined with new systems and technologies where needed

In a scathing report from members of the parliamentary public accounts committee, the system was described as 'unworkable'. The document added: "The Department of Health should review urgently whether it is worth continuing with all elements of the care records system to determine whether the remaining £4.3billion could be used to better effect to buy systems that work, are good value, and deliver demonstrable benefits for the NHS."

But Welsh minister, Lesley Griffiths, said she was confident similar endeavors across the border would be more successful.

Speaking to the Western Mail, she said the difference lay in the fact that, in England, the Government brought in replacement systems that have proved difficult to upscale and integrate. In contrast, in Wales, new systems are being created that will make better use of patient information that already exists on current GP practice computers.

We've worked with the British Medical Association to ensure that only clinicians involved in patients' care are able to view records and only with the patient's consent

She added: "The NHS in Wales has taken a radically different approach [to that in England]. From the start we wanted the best value for money, so our aim was to make as much use as possible of the computers and systems that we already had, combined with new systems and technologies where needed."

On the issue of security and data protection, she said: "Most patients in Wales are treated close to their homes and the information in their GP record is only shared with the out-of-hours and emergency care services that support the patient's GP practice. We've worked with the British Medical Association to ensure that only clinicians involved in patients' care are able to view records and only with the patient's consent."

The Welsh Clinical Portal will hold information from a number of computer systems and databases at government, hospital and GP practice level, enabling medical professionals to access data on medication, referrals and discharges and request tests and results from various sources.

From the start our focus has been on delivering tangible benefits for patients through small service improvement projects that allow us to adapt and learn from new ways of using or linking information. Once we know the systems work, we then move ahead with a national solution

Griffiths said: "The NHS keeps records about everyone they treat, but sharing this information is often very difficult as much is still held on paper and the computers cannot always talk to one another. This means communications rely on letters, phone calls and faxes and at the same time delivering healthcare is becoming increasingly complex.

"For example, a patient in Wales with diabetes may have to their see their GP, a diabetes expert based in a hospital, a dietician and a foot or eye specialist. Without linked systems, doctors and health staff have to refer to different computer systems and paper records. This is time-consuming and often difficult as the many different pieces of information which the hospital holds about the patient are not in one place."

The NHS keeps records about everyone they treat, but sharing this information is often very difficult as much is still held on paper and the computers cannot always talk to one another

The Welsh deployment will be handled in stages and is already being used by medical and surgical teams across both Carmarthen's Glangwili Hospital and Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli. It will soon also be available in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion and implementation across all health boards is expected to be completed by Christmas 2012.

Griffiths said: "The main benefit is patient safety. Doctors will have more information when they're treating patients. This will support decisions and reduce the chance of inappropriate treatment or error and increase the speed and relevance of the diagnosis.

"Clinicians working in different hospitals will also be able to undertake clinical processes in the same way wherever they work. For example, requesting a blood test for a patient will follow the same online process in all hospitals."

It's a cost-effective form of delivery that's quick, adaptable, reduces risk and ensures the people using the systems get what they want; without trying to reinvent the wheel

In tandem, the country's health chiefs are also developing individual health records (IHR), which offer clinicians quick access to life-and-death patient information such as allergies, which will be available to out-of-hours clinics and medical assessment units. These are already available to 43% of the population, with the rollout continuing. In addition, information is being managed by a new Welsh Clinical Communications Gateway, which handles referrals between GPs and hospitals; and My Health Online has been launched providing a website through which patients can book GP appointments or request repeat prescriptions.

Griffiths said: "From the start our focus has been on delivering tangible benefits for patients through small service improvement projects that allow us to adapt and learn from new ways of using or linking information. Once we know the systems work, we then move ahead with a national solution. It's a cost-effective form of delivery that's quick, adaptable, reduces risk and ensures the people using the systems get what they want; without trying to reinvent the wheel."

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