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File photo: Paper medical records Alamy Stock Photo

Plans for long-awaited digital health records goes to Cabinet with push to end paper-based system

The progression of electronic health records has been talked about in government for close to a decade.

GOVERNMENT PLANS TO push ahead with plans to roll out digital health records that will enable healthcare workers to quickly view a patient’s current medications, allergies and recent blood test results. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has been very critical of the lack of electronic health records in Ireland – describing Ireland as a ‘laggard’ in Europe.

The minister will today bring a memo to Cabinet outlining plans to advance digital health records, something that is contained in the programme for government and forms part of the Sláintecare plan. 

The move comes just a few short months after the HSE’s head of digital transformation, Prof Martin Curley, resigned from his post, comparing the job to scaling Mount Everest.

Speaking after his resignation, Curley told RTÉ that he did not believe the HSE was fit for purpose, stating that in trying to do his job the the system within the HSE was “very slow to respond”.

He said that Ireland was potentially the worst-performing healthcare system in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Today’s memo seeks to deliver a new digital framework, which intends to connect ICT systems and data to deliver a joined up digitally enabled health service.

The end goal is to make it possible for healthcare professionals, and others who support delivery of care, to be able to access the information needed about their patients, when and where they need it. 

It includes development of a national patient app, the conclusion of a community health-based record system for the Enhanced Community Care Programme as well as concluding procurement of a National Shared Care Record.

Ireland way behind on electronic healthcare records

National electronic healthcare record (EHR) are established in several European countries. Around 99% of GPs in the Netherlands use EHRs for patients, for example.   

A similarly high rate exists in the United Kingdom and many countries have successfully used EHRs for over a decade now.

However, last year the Oireachtas Health Committee was told that the HSE has yet to reach the “starting line” in developing a digital system to record patient charts, despite plans being lodged in 2018. 

At the time, Chief Information Officer with the HSE Fran Thompson told committee members that the health service is being held back with inefficient, and often paper- based, patient interactions.

The National Shared Care Record aims to allow doctors and other healthcare workers to quickly view that patient’s current medications, allergies, recent blood test results and any relevant clinical documents, such as active treatment plans.

It is believed this will allow doctors and nurses make speedy clinical decisions that are informed by an overview of the patient’s medical history.

The National Shared Care Record system has been talked about for close to ten years, with Simon Harris, as health minister in the past, also promising its delivery. 

It is understood the pace at which the HSE will deliver these programmes is likely to depend on several critical factors, including the extent to which dedicated funding and resources become available.

Separately, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien will bring an update on the overall supply figures, which show that 60% of all housing delivered in the last decade has been delivered in the four-year period to end-March 2024.

Cabinet will be told that 11,568 homes which were either previously unfinished or were at least two years disconnected from the ESB network have also been added to usable housing stock in the same period.

The memo notes that while it is too early in the year to accurately predict final output. 

It is not expected that a memo will go to Cabinet today recognising the State of Palestine. While the move had been mooted for 21 May, it is understood it is more likely now by the end of the month, so as to move in concert with other countries. 

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