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Digital health services development facing challenges

This month's combined report from the Health and Social Care Committee and the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee on the Scrutiny of Digital Health and Care Wales has exposed some limitations to its progress and the potential reasons, including lack of a clear direction.

Digital Health and Care Wales (DHCW) was established as a new Special Health Authority in April 2021, replacing the NHS Wales Informatics Service. Its role is to transform health and social care delivery in Wales by delivering new digital solutions, supporting frontline staff with modern systems, and improving approaches to using, sharing and storing data.

The findings from the Scrutiny of Digital Health and Care Wales report are summarised in the Senedd news item, which talks about how a "Slow roll out and a lack of direction is hindering the development of digital health services."

The report reflects on the areas needed for considerable development:

"It is not yet clear to us who is deciding on the priorities for DHCW, or how the multiple projects it has responsibility for are being ordered in terms of importance or urgency. We are also not yet assured from the evidence we have seen about the adequacy of information about timelines, milestones and progress on DHCW's major projects."

This unsatisfactory situation is in direct correlation to the recently announced ambitions by the Health Minister to develop a single centralised waiting list for dental patients across the whole of Wales.

Apart from the considerable resource implications needed for such a project and its possible delays, as shown in this latest report on the DHCW, it is unclear what the benefit will be to prospective patients, other than to provide a more accurate waiting time to access NHS dentistry. It may, however, provide better data to help the government understand the levels of unmet dental need across Wales.

The government response to the Recommendation 3 in the health committee's February report on dentistry simply states:

"Officials are already in discussions with Digital Health Care Wales (DHCW) to scope a design for an all-Wales dental waiting list. Initial indications are that this can be delivered within the next financial year and finances have been set aside to fund the project."

We will be pressing the Health Minister to provide a proper cost and benefit analysis of a central waiting list, before any irrevocable financial commitment is made.