Digital technology and social prescribing can help to transform services in Wales

Caremakers Excel event

Professor Sir Sam Everington met with the NHS Confederation and our members recently at the Annual Social Care Conference in Cardiff. He gave a short presentation and then took part in a Q&A session about his ground breaking work in Bromley by Bow in London.

It was a fascinating discussion, and we left emboldened by our common aim to reduce the number of people using acute services in Wales by keeping people active and healthy in our communities.

But how can we do it?

Against a backdrop of ever-increasing demand on our services, it can often feel the NHS in Wales is at breaking point. But, as we’ve seen over the past 12 to 18 months in Wales, change is coming at pace and scale.

Digital technology is playing an increasing role in the way we provide high-quality care. We learnt how in Bromley by Bow they were able to reduce outpatient attendance by 50% through effectively employing digital technologies.

Virtual and remote work from consultants has removed long waiting times for appointments and test results.  Electronic and easy access to health records and texting patients all the information they need following specialist assessments and test, the pressure on the service has reduced and outcomes for patients has improved.  Although this work has taken place in the urban and inner city environment it could also transform the way we deliver care for our rural communities in Wales.

In line with the recommendations set out in healthier Wales Sir Sam set out the importance of focussing on early interventions and prevention. We’ve seen the benefits of this in action already, with schemes like the Wood Shed in Aneurin Bevan. The scheme offers a place for those with mental health conditions to learn new skills and help reintegrate users back into society.  Earlier this month we published a report which looked at the many case studies across Wales where A Healthier Wales is being put into action.

We all too often read headlines of A&E departments under pressure and ambulances queuing outside hospitals.  If we are to change this we are going to need to transform our system and the way people use it.

The Welsh Government’s long-term plan, A Healthier Wales, gives a commitment to a single electronic patient record as well as collaboration with social care organisations and across sectors. This is integral if we are going to deliver an integrated health and social care system which meets the needs of everyone in Wales. This week the Welsh Government announced a new NHS Wales organisation which will focus on national digital services, which is a positive step.

However, we also know this change takes time, and the public need to come along with us. We need to encourage the public to Choose Well so they can find the most appropriate service for them and empower them to take ownership of their own healh and wellbeing.

One of the greatest successes of our NHS is the fact we all live longer lives thanks to advancements in treatment and medicine. We now have to address the very different challenges for the health and social care system presented by an aging population with more complex needs.  Health and social care organisations are beginning to meet the challenges set out in “A Healthier Wales” and we will continue to play our role in supporting them to deliver.

Darren Hughes is the Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation

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