Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan, has lent his support to the use of telemedicine within the country, saying that it has had great benefits for NHS Wales.

Speaking ahead of last week’s seventh summit of the British Irish Council on the Isle of Man, which focused on the benefits of telemedicine, Morgan said: "Wales has a remarkable story to tell in this area. We have been at the forefront of telemedicine development in the UK for a number of years."

"The Welsh Assembly Government also set up a telehealth team which has been responsible for implementing and co-ordinating telemedicine and telecare services across Wales for the last few years," he added. "Particularly beneficial has been the installation of video conferencing facilities throughout Wales which have resulted in a huge time and travel saving for NHS staff and health professionals."

The Welsh Health Video Service (WHVS) originally started life as a pilot two years ago, and was first trialled in the ambulance service. Around 700-800 videoconferences per day were being held in the country when statistics were last collected in autumn 2004.

Ken Pile, all-Wales Telehealth Implementation Manager, said that the WHVS was now no longer considered a pilot and had now been bedded down, and that teleconferencing had become a part of people’s work processes.

In its first trial in Wales, said Pile, users found that rather than necessarily saving money through the system, more time had been freed up to do other things. It was a success, and was expanded elsewhere.

"The other thing in Wales that drove us down this route is a shortage of clinical experts," said Pile. "We need to bring them closer to the communities." Having videoconferencing links meant that even the most rural of areas could access top-quality clinical care.

The WHVS video clinics, which are situated around the country, concentrate on subjects such as paediatrics, dermatology, burns and cardiology. They are used for clinical, training and conferencing purposes.

Welsh Assembly government minister for Health And Social Services Dr Brian Gibbons also said that the videoconferencing pilots taking place within Wales were world-leading and had helped to reduce waiting lists across the country.

Visiting WHVS Management Centre, at Health Solutions Wales in Cardiff, Dr Gibbons said: "hese facilities delivered by the WHVC are already enabling us to provide patient care earlier, through remote consultations and the sharing of medical expertise, especially in areas that were previously difficult to reach due to location or restricted access."

"As we become ever more reliant on technology the potential for Telemedicine to make further advances in the health service in Wales is huge. I am confident that Wales will continue to lead the way in this very important line of work."

Companies involved in supplying and maintaining the equipment and network for WHVS include Polycom, MultiSense, Avienda and Computacenter.

The British Irish Council, which consists of representatives from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, concentrated on telemedicine last week. Delegates discussed the use and benefits of telemedicine, and suggested that major factors in a successful implementation of telemedicine were patient perspective and confidence in the system.