In the week that the NHS in England awarded a tranche of major IT contracts, worth £2.7 billion, Welsh Assembly Health Minister Jane Hutt has once again officially launched the IT strategy for the Welsh NHS, the difference being this time that £88m of dedicated funding has been committed over the next three years.

The ‘Informing Healthcare Strategy’ sets out how the NHS in Wales plans to modernize health services through better use of information and communications technologies.  An earlier draft of the strategy was first published back in October 2002, and the strategy was first offically launched in July 2003.

As in the English NHS’s IT strategy, which the Welsh strategy closely resembles, the primary focus is on developing integrated electronic patient records – in Wales this is being termed the ‘Single Record’. A total of £16m will be invested by the Welsh Assembly Government in 2004-2005, rising to £36m in the years 2005-06 and 2006-07.

‘Informing Healthcare’ is based on the vision that information about individual patients should be available securely where and when it is needed, whether by the clinical team, the patient or their carers on a Single Record.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy Ms Hutt said: "The Welsh Assembly Government has given the delivery of Informing Healthcare a very high priority and this is shown by the funding that is to be invested over the next three years.”

She went on to stress the long-term nature of the strategy and the key role it had to play in the modernisation of the NHS in Wales "We must be strategic, comprehensive and ‘joined up’ in our response as we all owe a duty to the Welsh people to work together to improve the whole patient journey and not just the parts of it that concern our particular organisation directly.”

The Health Minister stressed that the strategy was not about IT per se: "Informing Healthcare is a strategy to support change. It is not a technology strategy. Simply purchasing new ICT facilities will not solve our problems.  We need to integrate new technology with a strategy that addresses new ways of working, the requirement for new skills and behaviours for staff and patients and clarity about how new information will be used.”

Responsibility for Implementation of the strategy will be led by a programme board, chaired by Denis Jessop.  The programme board will take responsibility for ensuring that stakeholder groups from across health and social services in Wales have oversight of the strategy and are able to shape priorities.

Ms Hutt said that work had already begun on planning for implementation of the strategy and that by April 2004 both a route map and step-by-step implementation plan for the Single Record concept would be in place.

We need to catch up after decades of piecemeal under-investment but just as importantly this investment reflects the scale of our ambitions for the future of the people of Wales. I’m sure its implementation will put Wales at the forefront of innovative care delivery for the generations of the 21st century," said the minister.