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NHS Wales given damning ‘wake-up call’ over its outdated IT systems

The Welsh Assembly has published a damming “wake-up call” on efforts to modernise NHS IT systems in Wales, raising “serious question marks” over a “culture of self-censorship and denial.”

An assembly inquiry said it found that the NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) was running primarily on outdated IT systems and questioned the “competence, capability and capacity” of the body.

In the first six months of the year, NHS Wales’ major IT systems crashed 21 times, with a programme installed in 2003 to digitise patient records already outdated and “prone to crashing.”

The report was commissioned by the National Assembly of Wales and the Public Accounts Committee, who said that whilst the Welsh Government and NWIS have accepted all the recommendations, it found “little reason to be optimistic that things were changing.”

The committee’s chair Nick Ramsay said that at a time of digital innovation, just 10% of NWIS’s activities were focused on innovation, and that those charged with taking the agenda forward were in “denial.”

Despite the “clear failing to deliver,” the auditor general found the NWIS to be “overly positive” in its progress reporting.

Ramsay declared “it’s time for a reboot,” and said he hoped the report would be a wake-up call to all those involved in harnessing the power of digital innovation to improve healthcare in Wales.

Included in the committee’s recommendations were that the NWIS requires improvement far beyond “simply pouring money” into the existing system, suggesting that additional funding needs to be tied to reorganisation.

It also recommended six monthly updates from the Welsh Government on the progress of implementing the digital recommendations of the parliamentary review and the auditor general’s report.

The report said it was “very concerned” by the evidence the committee had heard on system outages, infrastructure and resilience, and that the impact of recent outages of Cloud computing was also “deeply concerning.”

Establishing electronic patient records is one of the main projects in Wales, but the report said there were “too many cases (where) the NHS relies on outdated, paper-based records” when electronic records could lead to better patient care, and the cancer IT system CaNISC was highlighted as a particular problem.

Responding to the recommendations, NHS Confederation’s Welsh director Vanessa Young said: “The report makes uncomfortable reading, but reflects the frustration that exists across the NHS over delays in delivering an electronic patient record, as well as concerns about the resilience of core systems.

“It should come as no surprise that the NHS in Wales and NWIS have been struggling to provide the quality of service and the pace of innovation required when the governance and funding has not been in place to enable that to happen.”

 Image credit - sturti

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