Press Release

Minister announces major investment in the future of healthcare system

Patients and healthcare professionals are set to benefit from the introduction of a new health strategy, which lays the foundations for the future of health information systems in Ireland and provides for more accessible and comprehensive information across all areas of health.

The National Health Information Strategy, which was launched today (Tuesday, 20th July) by the Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin, is a response to the need for greater health information by healthcare professionals, stakeholders and patients themselves. The Strategy will lead to the development of greater national healthcare standards and will yield tangible benefits such as controlled access to patient records by healthcare professionals; centrally-controlled waiting lists and a more efficient healthcare system.

Commenting Minister Martin said “These improved systems will provide a wide-range of benefits; at operational level they will greatly improve the patient’s experience and improve patient safety. They will enable the generation and analysis of activity in the health system which will highlight emerging problems quickly (e.g. outbreak of illness) and facilitate rapid responses as well as enabling the better targeting of resources towards the area of greatest need”

Minister Martin said that the new National Health Information Strategy (NHIS) will make recommendations to rectify current information deficiencies, and put in place measures that can exploit modern technology in the area of health information systems.

“This is a substantial investment and development in the whole future of our healthcare system”, said Minister Martin. €60m has recently been set aside for health information systems, which will have a major impact in areas such as waiting lists, sharing of information, service planning and healthcare evaluation. Considerable progress has been made in the development of information systems in the health service in recent years, the main emphasis has been on the development of Enterprise Resource Systems (ERP) to enable the better management of the services at local and national level. The implementation of these systems is currently at an advanced stage and the rollout of these systems will continue in 2004. This included initial implementation work on the major national Hospital Information System project, which will include laboratory systems, and on a new system for patient management at primary care level.

An additional sum of €5m is being made available from the Information Society Fund. Developments include the European Health Insurance Card and a system of Primary Care Messaging which the implements electronic communications between GPs and hospitals.

Rapid development of information systems in the health service is and essential element of the Health Service Reform Programme and the transition to the new structures. The combination of the ERP systems and client / patient systems will play a major part in underpinning the four principles of the Health Strategy Quality and Fairness : Equity, People-centredness, Quality and Accountability.

HIQA

The strategy will be implemented on a phased basis and priority will be given to the establishment of HIQA (The Health Information and Quality Authority). HIQA, which has been described as the ´Health Information Watchdog´ will be established under the Health Service Reform Programme and will play a major role in the implementation and advancement of the new National Health Information Strategy.

Electronic Healthcare Record

Key to the success of the National Health Information Strategy will be the phased introduction of an Electronic Healthcare Record (EHR), which exploits advancements in information and communications technology and allows for a system of unique patient identification. This will assist healthcare professionals to provide a safer and more integrated service to those in their care.

The Minister explained that, on a practical level, EHR allows for the transfer of patient information, with the patient, irrespective of which county, hospital or healthcare professional that patient attends.

Increased Funding

There will be significant increases in funding for information systems in the health arena, demonstrating the Minister’s commitment to developing this area under the Health Service Reform Programme of 2003. In 2004, there has already been a 100% increase, on 2003, in the allocation of funding for health information systems.

New Health Observatory

Under the Strategy, provision has been made for the development of a National Population Health Observatory, whose functions will include population health surveillance; the monitoring of health trends; providing early warning of future health problems and advising on initiatives that will help to reduce inequalities in health.

The Minister advised that the new Health Information Strategy is an essential step towards improving the quality of information and data for healthcare professionals and the quality of care for patients.

Better data and agreement on standards, both in Ireland and ultimately, across the EU, will allow healthcare professionals to examine the services they provide, compare approaches to treatment with other areas and make improvements, where necessary. The Minister said that better data and centralised information systems will support health service planners to make the best use of available resources and to measure the benefits of any additional resources.

A second conference under Ireland’s Presidency of the EU, CARDS, agreed standards for data collected on patients with heart disease. The agreed standards will be distributed to cardiologists, not only in Ireland, but across the EU, helping to ensure consistent standards of patient care in the area of coronary disease. This is a practical example of how eHealth and standardised systems can benefit both the healthcare system and patients.

The report highlights the contribution which improved health information will make in the process of narrowing existing health inequalities, as identified in the National Anti-Poverty Strategy (1997).