NHS IT services are failing patients, warns Health Committee

08/03/2010

The Scottish Government must take action now to improve NHS computing systems as patients are missing out on better care and treatment, warns a report from the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee.

The report on the development of computer software in the NHS highlights the major issues the government must address if Scotland is to become the world leader in electronic health.

Issues to be tackled include

  • safeguarding of patient privacy
  • timescales and continuity for the national roll-out of “telehealth” schemes
  • tackling resistance from medical staff in using technology.

The report criticises the slow and inconsistent provision of clinical portals and telehealth over the decade in Scotland. A clinical portal is a computer software system that allows clinicians and GPs to access medical data on a patient anywhere in Scotland.

Currently, information on one patient can be stored on a variety of database systems within one health board area. Telehealth software can remove the need for patients to travel to towns and hospitals to receive care and treatment. Instead, broadband or mobile services such as video conferencing can be used.

Committee Convener Christine Grahame MSP said: “If used effectively and efficiently, technology such as clinical portals and telehealth could make a huge difference to the quality of care and treatment patients receive across Scotland.

"It also has the potential to release much-needed resources in these economically difficult time for front-line patient services.

"However, our Committee report reveals that the Scottish Government has some serious work to do in encouraging health boards to use and evaluate this technology. We hope the Government will act on our recommendations regarding patient rights, professional standards, funding and staff training by 2014 at the latest.”

The Committee’s recommendations include:

  • the establishment of safeguards around patient confidentiality and IT systems.
  • setting targets for all health boards to offer telehealth to all patients.
  • value for money being placed at the heart of any NHS telehealth strategy.
  • patients, midwives, nurses and other health representatives must be on the Clinical Portal Programme Board which is designed to oversee clinical portal projects in Scotland.
  • an “eHealth” professional standards group including clinicians, medical bodies, teaching and trainers should be established.

A clinical portal is a computer software system that allows clinicians and GPs to access medical data on a patient anywhere in Scotland. Patient data can be stored on a variety of database systems within one health board area. For example, one patient in Grampian may have information on their blood tests, prescription medicines and surgical treatments stored on different database systems in a GP surgery or various hospitals.

IT systems vary from health board to health board. The clinical portal is designed to allow access to all health board database systems. To date, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Tayside have made the most progress in developing clinical portals.

Telehealth – using technology in the delivery of public healthcare.

In December 2009, the Health and Sport Committee undertook a short inquiry into the development of clinical portal technology and telehealth across the NHS in Scotland.

The aim of the inquiry was to examine the current pace of development in the use of such technology as a means of delivering a more efficient, responsive and patient-centred health service.


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