Northern Ireland’s Department of Health and Social Services is getting set to issue a tender for the supply of telehealth services to cover 5,000 people by 2011.

The initiative will see Northern Ireland invest £46m in telemedicine services to better support chronic disease management. Some 40 telehealth suppliers hoping to participate are today in Belfast for an information exchange day and expo, demonstrating their products and services.

Once implemented, the province will become one of Europe’s leading providers of telehealth services to its population.

“The aim is to do this at scale and find new ways of working,” said Dr Andrew McCormick, permanent secretary of Northern Ireland’s Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety, speaking at the e-health 2008 conference in Portoroz, Slovenia.

Dr McCormick added: “This is an example of what can be done with new technology and an opportunity to respond to the challenges of ageing populations we will all face.” He explained that the province faces particular demographic pressures as it moves from away having a relatively young population.

He said Northern Ireland had the advantage of one integrated health and social care agency with responsibility for the planning, delivery, finance and regulation of health and social care. “There are opportunities that arise from that.”

Dr McCormick explained that Northern Ireland had developed “a public health-led strategy based on ICT-enabled early intervention.”

An early tangible result of this strategy was the January opening of the European centre for Connected Health in Belfast.

Dr McCormick added Northern Ireland benefited from being a good size to carry forward e-health projects of this kind. “We’re small enough to work quickly but large enough to be meaningful.”

The permanent secretary added: “Northern Ireland has the potential to be a pilot at the European level and show how ideas can be applied.”