NI's health service records to become completely digitised

  • Health Minister Robin Swann has announced a major step towards the radical digital transformation of Northern Ireland’s health service, with the award of a landmark contract.

    The Minister stated that the award of the Encompass contract to Epic Systems, a specialist firm in patient software, means that the days of relying heavily on paper patient records are coming to an end.

    Encompass involves the creation of a single Digital Care Record for every citizen. It forms part of a planned £300m IT investment over 10 years that will create 200 additional jobs.

    The contract finally comes following four years of planning, business case processes and a successfully completed competitive tender.

    The Department of Health said the Encompass system will link in with work on waiting times; actions around mental health, reconfiguration of hospital services, the development of day case elective centres and delivery of transformed cancer services.

    It will also support community engagement and co-design.

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    Minister Swann said: “Digital transformation will have a vital role in the rebuilding of health and social care in the wake of the first Covid-19 wave.

    “For example, virtual clinics will increasingly be embedded in the provision of care. That innovation has been fast tracked as a result of coronavirus. It is here to stay. Further digital innovation will revolutionise services and Encompass is a major step in that direction.

    “We are calling time on the current situation of multiple, ageing digital systems and a large reliance on the paper record.

    “This investment will improve outcomes for our patients and service users by making it easier for our HSC professionals to deliver sustainable, high quality care, improved efficiencies and greater collaboration across all care settings.”

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    The Minister also confirmed that the response to Covid-19 is still currently taking precedence, but it would be a disservice to the NI population and those working so hard in the HSC to stall on this opportunity.

    He continued: “There will of course be challenges in planning such a major digital transformation in the face of ongoing uncertainty, but I am reassured that the Encompass team and Epic will continue to be working hard in the background so that when we emerge from Covid, we are best placed to build on the experiences of frontline staff, patients and the public to deliver services that are more digitally transformed, virtualised and sustainable into the future.”

    Encompass should enable referral to treatment times to be tracked for the first time in Northern Ireland. By collecting this data, it will be used more pro-actively to support people before they need hospital care, and the integral Patient Portal will support closer working with people to help them manage their own care.

    The South Eastern Trust will be the first health trust to go fully live with Encompass in 2022, following a regional design and configuration process involving staff, patients and carers from throughout the service.

    All trusts are anticipated to be using the Encompass solution by the end of 2024 across hospital, community and social care services.

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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