E-health Strategy

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 13 March 2024.

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Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

6. To ask the Scottish Government how it will develop its e-health strategy in the coming years. (S6O-03195)

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I can confirm that the Scottish Government’s e-health strategy was replaced by a digital health and care strategy, which was published jointly with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in 2018 and updated in 2021. The strategy is accompanied by an annual delivery plan, with the 2024-25 delivery plan scheduled to be published in April 2024. There are no plans to develop the strategy further in the immediate future.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

One of the few benefits of the Covid pandemic was that we were able to embrace digital technology much more, which came to the rescue in many fields, not least in telehealth. Does the cabinet secretary agree that we must continue to develop and exploit the power of digital technology in our health service to help us to improve things such as general practice appointment systems, e-health digital consultations and general telehealth services, which are not only crucial for people who live in rural parts of Scotland but are valuable as a means of improving general access to all our national health services?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Yes,

I agree that further utilising innovation and technology will be a central element of reforming health and social care. I agree that we should be exploring more opportunities for greater use of digital solutions. Some of that is about maximising the capabilities of our existing investments. For example, the new GP information technology system, which we are in the process of rolling out, gives GPs the ability to offer online booking services. We have already rolled out the Near Me service for online consultations.

Some of this is about exploring the art of the possible. Through the Scottish Funding Council, we have recently confirmed 10-year funding for the Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre to continue to lead our efforts to explore where those opportunities are.

I am grateful to Willie Coffey for raising the issue, because digital is an area in which we will need to spend much greater time and resource.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

As we attempt to tackle significant issues in our health service, I hear time and time again from our health boards that their outdated IT systems are a block to progress. A modern collaboration and communication platform is essential, to bring our health service back into a better state, especially in data gathering and the development of our e-health systems.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer committed in excess of £3 billion to develop healthcare tech. Will the cabinet secretary consider working with the United Kingdom Government to bring NHS Scotland’s IT systems up to scratch and create a UK-wide communication and collaboration system?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I agree fundamentally with the points that Brian Whittle raises about the need for that investment, though I gently point out to him that the investment that was announced by the chancellor is money that will arrive not this year but in years to come. I believe that we need that investment much earlier.

Of course, we will seek to collaborate, where it is possible, to ensure that there is effective communication between systems and, within Scotland, between GP services, acute settings and social care. That is exactly what the reform discussions that I am embarking on will be about trying to direct. With regard to where the capital comes from to invest in that work, I encourage Brian Whittle to encourage his colleagues to see to it that that investment is front-loaded, so that we can have it now.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

The roll-out of e-health and digital technology is going at quite a slow pace. Recording of patient data still differs from one health board to another, which hinders progress, and some prescriptions are still being written by hand.

If we are to develop an e-health strategy that is fit for the future, we must see rapid advancement in the streamlining of recording practices across the country, and we must ensure that staff and patients alike are clear on what that progress looks like. Will the cabinet secretary outline in any future e-health strategies how we might address those concerns?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I agree with the premise of Carol Mochan’s question. She is absolutely right that, for us to have a productive health service that is responsive to patient need and that ensures that our clinicians are able to communicate effectively—between boards, where that is necessary, and between different settings, such as primary, acute and social care—cohesion and coherence are necessary.

We are already making investments, although I take the point that Carol Mochan makes about the pace of those. We want to go faster. We are looking with interest at the capital investment that is to come in future years from the UK Government, and we would want to see investment to come sooner. I will continue to collaborate with boards and colleagues on how we can make the digitisation of our health services a faster process.