6. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care: National Immunisation Framework for Wales

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 5:04 pm on 21 May 2024.

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Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru 5:04, 21 May 2024

We know that, since the Cabinet Secretary's previous statement on the national immunisation framework last year, issues around misinformation have contributed to ongoing vaccine hesitancy, which in turn have contributed to dangerous and entirely preventable outbreaks of measles. In England and Wales, there were 1,603 suspected cases of measles in 2023, an increase from 735 in 2022, and just 360 the year before. Last year we asked how use of an app would help to combat the spread of misinformation about vaccinations. The Minister—the now Cabinet Secretary—responded:

'In terms of misinformation, I do think that this is a serious subject. It does affect people, some people listen to the nonsense they see online in particular. That's why it's important that people can go to websites and other places where they can have confidence that the information that they are getting is factual, scientific information that they can rely on. That's why I think there is a prominent role, not only for the app, but also for the NHS locally in ensuring that people have that confidence. People still have a lot of confidence in the NHS and the people who lead the NHS.'

So, my questions are, given the role that the spread of misinformation is continuing to have in promoting vaccine hesitancy, does the Cabinet Secretary agree that more needs to be done than providing information via an NHS website alone? Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that there is an urgent need for a cross-departmental approach to combating disinformation and misinformation, including about vaccines, and what conversations is she having or will she be having with her ministerial colleagues about this? And does the Cabinet Secretary agree that without the devolution of powers over broadcasting in particular it will be harder to counter the spread of misinformation?

Moving on to digital infrastructure, I'm concerned that developing the digital infrastructure is a painfully slow process and we need to see greater impetus on this front. Last year we also asked how the digital infrastructure would underpin and help to deliver the framework, and how this would interact with the multiple computer systems already being used in the NHS in Wales. The Minister responded, and I quote again:

'we are doing a lot to transform our digital systems in the NHS. I'd like to do a lot more if I had more funding. I think it's an area where we would get great value for money, but there are problems, evidently, in financial terms at present, so what we're trying to do is ensure that the computer systems are in place, and our digital team is spending a lot of time ensuring that that is in the right place.'

So, can the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on, and/or more specific information about the development of relevant IT systems? What progress has been made on integrating these with existing systems, and what work has been undertaken to streamline and simplify these systems? Diolch yn fawr iawn.