NHS organisations on the Wirral have announced plans to push ahead with the roll-out of an ambitious health community-wide electronic health record (EHR) programme at least two years ahead of the national NHS Care Records Service.

The new EHR project builds on the solid foundations laid by NHS organisations in the Wirral, which have been in the van of developing shared electronic record systems in both the acute and community sectors over the past decade.

Wirral Hospital NHS Trust under the leadership of chief executive Frank Burns, chief author of Information for Health, has been a national exemplar in implementing hospital-based electronic patient records for the past decade.

Wirral was also one of the leading sites under the NHS Information Authority’s ERDIP programme, developing a fully functional community-wide EHR, based on a central repository of records, designed to link primary, community and secondary care together and enable health practitioners in multiple settings to access patient records. 

Since the end of the ERDIP programme in 2002 Wirral Health Informatics Service (WHIS) has continued with the development and roll-out of a community-wide EHR system, in association with New Zealand health IT supplier iHealth.  iHealth was in January acquired by iSOFT, which has also been selected to be the main clinical application provider for the North West and Midlands region.

The Wirral EHR project is supported by the borough’s main health service organisations: Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology; Bebington and West Wirral Primary Care Trust (PCT); Birkenhead and Wallasey PCT and Wirral Hospital NHS Trust.  Its introduction comes two years ahead of the schedule projected by National Programme for IT.

Three quarters of local GP practices will be included in the roll-out of the Wirral EHR, which will eventually be accessible to staff who provide community services, emergency care and services at Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology and Wirral Hospital NHS Trust.

The new EHR system will mean that doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff in Wirral will have swifter access to patients’ up-to-date medical details. Healthcare professionals will be able to access key information about each patient over a secure NHSnet connection, and will no longer have to wait for paper files to be delivered to them.

Dr Abhi Mantgani, medical director of Birkenhead and Wallasey Primary Care Trust (PCT) and chair of the Wirral Clinical Information Modernisation Team, said: "This marks the dawn of a new era in the way information about a patient can be accessed in order for decisions about their care and treatment to be made.

"By putting clinical information in one central location and enabling staff to call it up instantly on their computer screens, we hope to make the patient’s journey through the NHS safer and smoother.

“For the first time, all health care professionals will have up to date information about that patient in making clinical decisions, and this will improve the quality of care provided to our population."

Benefits of the new Wirral EHR system will include enabling GPs to read the results of x-rays within 24 hours of a hospital doctor filing them, instead of eight days.  

The system will also mean that cancer specialists at Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology will get instant access to records and other relevant information held by GPs and hospitals in the area about a patient under their care. Accident and Emergency staff will be able to check in minutes whether a patient, who might be unconscious, is taking prescribed medication or has any allergies.

Angela Kennedy, Project Manager for the WHIS, which developed the system, added: “Information stored in an individual’s EHR can only be accessed by healthcare professionals directly involved in his or her care and rigorous safeguards are in place to ensure patient confidentiality."

She added: “Although people have the right to opt out of having an EHR, it is important everyone understands that this could, potentially, delay NHS staff in accessing important information about them."