Montgomeryshire MS, Russell George, provides his latest column which focuses on the use of tehcnology to improve health services in the area.
Last week I led a debate in the Senedd on the need to improve technology in the Welsh NHS, and called on the Welsh Government to urgently roll-out the NHS app and e-prescribing across the whole of the Welsh NHS, accelerate the integration of digital and AI technologies for the Welsh NHS; and begin the phasing out of outdated NHS technologies.
Technology is revolutionising the delivery of healthcare around the globe, and we need advancements in our local GP practices, pharmacies and wider healthcare settings from Machynlleth to Welshpool and beyond. Innovative technological solutions, from artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D printers, robotics and precision medicine and bioengineering are being developed and deployed within the health services to bring about advancements in treatment, aid clinical decision making, empower patients and make healthcare both more accessible and efficient. Across the UK, our health systems are adopting pioneering technological approaches to detect and identify cancers, train students and clinicians to manage a range of clinical situations, monitor patients at home instead of in hospital, and automate administrative tasks to improve efficiency, which will allow GPs and other health professionals to have more time to see more patients.
It was great to see, the first e-prescriptions in Wales taking place the other week in Rhyl. E-prescribing refers to the use of an online systems to generate and send prescriptions for medications directly to pharmacies. Traditional, your local GP practice for example in Newtown or Welshpool would typically write a paper prescription for a patient, the patient would then take the paper prescription to a pharmacy to receive their medication. E-prescribing streamlines this process by leveraging electronic health records which allows GPs to electronically send your prescription directly to the pharmacist, which you can then go to collect.
In Rhyl, it really was a good-news story, and e-prescriptions will start being rolled out across Wales from January next year. We should celebrate that achievement, but also recognise progress in Wales has been slow. I want to see our local practices across the whole of Montgomeryshire to be supported in e-prescribing so that they can streamline the prescribing process, become more efficient and save time so that they can see patients more quickly, as they do over the boarder because, NHS England issued its first e-prescription in 2005, and had rolled out e-prescribing to over 90 per cent of pharmacies and GP practices by 2018. If we are to streamline our NHS and catch up with our neighbours, Welsh Government need to show urgency in their approach. E-prescribing has been estimated to save 2.7 million hours of GP Practice time in England, as it removes the need for clinicians to sign prescriptions and automates repeat prescriptions.
Unfortunately, it’s not just e-prescribing that we lag behind our neighbours on. In England, The NHS App was launched in 2018. This app lets patients access a range of NHS services at a time that is convenient to them, including, ordering repeat prescriptions, managing appointments with specialist services, and viewing their GP record. In Wales, we do not all have the same access and not all GP practices have this facility. Patients across Montgomeryshire should be able to access their medical records, book appointments and order repeat prescriptions without the need to ring the GP surgery at 8am, this is what the app in England allows you to do and we need the same to be rolled out at pace across our communities.
I also called for and would like to see the acceleration of the integration of digital and AI technologies for the Welsh NHS. AI and new technology in the NHS bring great opportunity for improvement, the Royal College of Radiologists has said that, at a time when diagnostic and cancer services are under strain, with a 30 per cent shortfall in radiologists and 18 per cent shortfall in clinical oncologists, it is critical that we embrace innovation that could boost capacity. This is capacity that we need and need fast in mid Wales.
We must also start the phasing out of outdated NHS technologies. As you read this, you may well remember the Welsh NHS 111 system was the victim of a cyber-attack last year, which caused software outages that prevented NHS 111 making referrals to out-of-hours GP services, and, in January this year, the Minister stated she would be getting rid of fax machines 'soon'. But in Wales, new fax machines are still being purchased as part of new hospital facilities!
As the Health spokesperson for Welsh Conservatives, I recognise that the adoption of new digital technologies is dependent upon the underlying technological infrastructure being up to date, we need to see investment in Welsh NHS technological and digital infrastructure and the phasing out of archaic technology. If we can make our NHS and other health services more efficient, then more patients can be seen and treated more quickly.