MSPs slam Scotland’s record on healthcare IT

Report from Holyrood committee says Scottish Government has to get a hold on an unsatisfactory situation to get the best out of digital for the country’s NHS

A group of MSPs have pointed at outdated IT systems and confusion over data sharing as being among the factors that are holding back change in Scotland’s NHS.

The Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee has published a report on the issue that calls for the Scottish Government to deal with the issues and give the country’s health service the scope to innovate and improve the delivery of health and social care.

Among the problems it highlights is that many IT systems do not interact well with others, with insufficient progress in creating interoperability standards and boards often making procurements without reference to the bigger picture.   

In addition, the national systems implemented over the past few years – including the Key Information Summary and Palliative Care Summary – have been rolled out in a piecemeal fashion and key personnel have not been given access everywhere.

The data sharing obstacles arise partly from a lack of understanding of data protection rules, and the inability of people involved in care to have appropriate read and write access to patient records when necessary. The report says the best way forward is the development of a single platform and urges the Scottish Government to take action on the issue.

Scaling problem

There are also difficulties in scaling up with solutions because, even if they have proved successful in one area, they need the agreement of individual boards in other areas, which can be a very slow process.

Another problem is the reluctance of many staff to change the way they work, and of clinicians to accept new tools, even when they have gone through assessment.

All this could undermine the Scottish Government’s Health and Social Care Delivery Plan, published in December 2016, which included the aim of giving everyone in the country online access to their electronic patient record. The report points to the need for more intervention from the centre to provide fresh momentum.

“The majority of those who gave evidence believed having some level of national strategic approach to the commissioning and distribution of new technology would help alleviate these issues, with the Scottish Government having a level of oversight,” the report says.

“Witnesses felt such oversight and guidance would help boards understand the benefits of new technology and how it could benefit them. It was also believed national guidance would ensure parity in boards and for patients across the country.”

Fractured implementation

The overall message of the report is that there are plenty of opportunities to use digital tech for widespread benefits in the Scottish NHS, but that its implementation has been too fractured with insufficient buy-in to make a difference, and that progress is far too slow.

Lewis MacdonaldConvener of the committee Lewis Macdonald MSP (pictured) said: “When the committee agreed to carry out this inquiry, members expected to investigate different ways where ground breaking and innovative technologies could make dramatic changes to the way the health and social care sector operates. Instead, we’ve heard how a number of barriers are preventing change from happening.

“The committee wants Scotland to remain a leader in health and social care and to do so we must make sure innovation flourishes. We are asking the Scottish Government to be bold and offer strong leadership to tackle these”.