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Wales is set for a major transformation in how the country delivers health and social care, through digital technologies, service integration and data use, according to a Welsh government report.
The report, which sets out the government’s plans for the future of health and social care in the country, promises to increase investment in digital technologies, and said it will immediately launch a £100m transformation fund to help join up services to deliver seamless, integrated care.
The fund will be targeted at ways to speed up the process of implementing the government’s plans, such as developing integrated prevention services. Over the coming year, the government will align other funding streams with the transformation programme.
The plans follow an independent review of health and care services in Wales, which was published in January 2018 and found that the country is in dire need of a system change, including better uptake and use of technologies.
The changes to health and social care delivery aim to ensure that people go to hospital only when they need to, and to create better care in local communities. Instead of focusing solely on treating people when they become unwell, the focus will increasingly be on helping people stay well, with services designed around the individual. The government sees digital technology as a “key enabler” to achieving this.
“Making better use of digital, data and communication technologies will help us to raise the quality and value of health and social care services, so that they are cost-effective and sustainable and also bring our offer in line with increasing expectations of technology in people’s day-to-day lives,” the report said.
“Digital technologies will bring information from different providers together, so that they can model and predict the demand for health and social care services, and improve understanding and management of how services work together.”
Read more about health IT in Wales
- A country-wide outage of several core NHS Wales IT systems has prompted questions about the organisation’s datacentre failover procedures.
- The Welsh government must do more to gain the benefits of technology and innovation to deliver better and more effective care.
- The NHS Wales Informatics Service and Life Sciences Hub Wales have joined forces to launch a digital health and care network to help tech companies access the sector and share innovations.
The report said an integrated digital platform for different health and social care providers will also capture much more information about outcomes, which can then be used to plan and prioritise services “based on a full picture of their quality and value, not just cost and volume”.
“This is essential in ensuring that clinical care is provided prudently with a focus on what works and the avoidance of what does not, based on up-to-date and robust outcomes information which can be shared across the system,” it added.
Through hubs, clinicians will also be able to share clinical expertise and good practice, ensuring that standards of care are the same throughout Wales.
From 2019, the Welsh government plans to “significantly increase investment in digital infrastructure, technologies and workforce capacity, supported by stronger national digital leadership and delivery arrangements”. By 2020, it aims to have established a “national data resource which allows large-scale information to be shared securely and appropriately”.
Not all about tech
However, although digital is seen as an enabler, and the use of technologies will help people stay out of hospital, it will not replace face-to-face contact, said the government.
“New technologies and digital approaches will be an important part of our future whole system approach to health and social care, but they will only be a part,” the report said. “Some people will be unable to access digital services; others will choose not to.
“Face-to-face and hands-on human contact is an extremely valuable and absolutely essential part of care and treatment. There are many things that cannot be delivered digitally or through technology. People will always be the foundation of high-quality health and social care services.”
Although the aim is to keep people out of hospital, services based in the country’s hospitals remain essential. However, the types of services delivered across major hospitals will continue to change, with some moving out to the community, and some hospitals becoming more specialised.
The Welsh government also aims to improve holistic care, individually delivered around the person, including non-medical support, such as managing debt, housing issues or local activities.
The report also acknowledged that technologies that will be available over the next 10 years might not yet have been created, or are only just emerging. The government said it wants to create a system that can respond “with urgency and agility to these new opportunities”.
It added: “New technologies will enable our future health and social care services to predict poor health, to detect early deterioration and illness sooner, to diagnose more precisely, and to make better choices about which treatment is right for the individual.
“New genetic diagnostics will help to detect cancer much earlier, probably from a simple blood test, and to identify specific types of cancer, which can be matched to the treatment that is most likely to cure.”
The government said people will play a bigger role in managing their own health and care, as well as being able to make decisions about treatment and managing long-term conditions.
“Instead of waiting for something to ‘go wrong’, our system will use all the tools available to ensure that things ‘stay right’,” the report said.