Opinions

What digital health and care services will all Scots get access to – and when?

Written by: Zahid Deen, Director, Digital and Service Transformation, the ALLIANCE

Published: 12/03/2019

We need clear commitments and a delivery plan for citizen-facing digital health and care in Scotland.

It’s almost one year since the publication of Scotland’s ambitious Digital Health and Care Strategy (this link will take you away from our website). It was rightly high level but didn’t contain any timescales for delivering person facing digital services.

That strategy seems to have super-ceded the previous Scottish Government eHealth strategy which had promised over 90% access to online GP appointment booking and repeat prescription ordering by 2017. By 2020 all Scots were supposed to gain access to a patient portal where they could see (and contribute to) their health record.  It doesn’t look like those aspirations will be achieved soon – and if these previous commitments no longer apply given the new strategy, then what does?

In contrast, in England virtually every adult has already been given online access to GP appointment booking, repeat prescription ordering, a summary of their GP record plus free Wi-Fi at their GP practice. And later this year England will offer all its citizens an NHS App that promises a simpler and single way to access all of these services and other options like updating data sharing preferences and using video consultations.

Several English regions are also currently acting as ‘exemplars’ to show how they can deliver – and give people access to – integrated records combining GP, hospital and other care information.

It isn’t clear when integrated records will be made available to the public in Scotland.  At present, we can’t even access our GP records online.  Generally, you can only get a paper copy by writing to your GP practice then waiting up to four weeks for it.  You might then have to pick this up in person and you might be charged a fee for any further requests.

Is this really acceptable in today’s digital world?  Access to your records should be a right, enabled in a fully accessible, convenient way.  It can offer a number of benefits including ‘no-brainer’ transactional ones.

I recently had several interactions with my GP practice to determine what vaccinations I needed before going abroad.  This included phoning my GP practice, visiting it to get a paper form, filling that out and handing it to the GP practice at least six weeks before my trip. A practice nurse later reviewed whether I needed vaccinations and the practice then informed me of the outcome.  However, if I had access to my record none of these steps would have been required as my GP record showed I was already fully vaccinated for my destination!

We really need clarity on what digital healthcare services we will receive and by when.  Our specific asks are for the Scottish Government to:

  • publish a timetabled delivery plan setting out when all Scots will gain access to specific digital health and care services – and to provide updates on progress towards these targets;
  • articulate how new services will be designed with people and staff
  • and combine that with extensive marketing and support for change locally to boost take-up and effective use of these services.

In short, a commitment and clear actions to design and deliver services with people – and to promote positive change with them – please!

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