New Welsh Special Health Authority urged to promote digital inclusion

New Digital Health and Care Wales body aims to join-up digital services 

4th February 2021 about a 3 minute read

Wales is launching a new Special Health Authority called Digital Health and Care Wales (DHCW), to start work on April 1.

The plans, which come with £50 million new funding, also include creating the role of Chief Digital Officer for Health and Care in Wales.

Health and Social Services Minister Vaughan Gething commented:

“Our long-term vision for the NHS, A Healthier Wales, sets out the importance of digital technology in the future of healthcare. It plays an absolutely essential role throughout the health service and in social care, and it empowers patients and the public to manage their own health and wellbeing.

“I want everyone in Wales to have access to the highest quality digital health and care services, including professionals, the public and patients.”

The new structure is aimed at raising the profile of digital services and promoting better co-ordination across the principality.

The move follows a consultation exercise in which the majority of respondents supported the initiative.

The Welsh Government sees DHCW as a chance to strengthen digital services across Wales and the new body will work closely with other NHS Wales organisations.

The consultation report notes that there was some concern that the transition to the new structure could have an impact on operational delivery. 

Adequate resources

But the Welsh government and the NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) have pledged to ensure that adequate resources are made available to ensure a smooth transition. 

Those responding the the consultation called for the new organisation to focus on exploring emerging technologies – such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and advanced data science – and the role these can play in ‘future-proofing’ service delivery.

Digital inclusion

A key theme from the consultation process was the need to promote digital inclusion. Some respondents expressed concerned that a large number of service users are still unable or unwilling to use digital services. 

Several raised the issue of accessibility for some digital services and suggested that DHCW should have a ‘champion for disability and sensory loss’ to support those with access needs to use digital services. 

A number of respondents welcomed the move to a “cloud first” approach for the delivery of digital platforms, systems and services. But several flagged up concerns around security and confidentiality,  financial implications of a cloud first approach and also the operational challenges posed by migrating systems to the cloud.

Digital Health transformation was also clearly recognised as an opportunity to expand the use of the Welsh language in the day to day activities of the NHS

The summary of the responses to the consultation exercise is available here