NHS Wales Informatics Services (NWIS) will be reformed into a new NHS Wales as part of a massive shake-up of the country’s health and care services.

Alongside £50 million in fresh funding, the new standalone organisation will appoint a chief digital officer who will help define national standards for Wales’s digital health services.

Investment will be prioritised around five key areas, which include modernising IT systems and devices, creating new digital health services and shoring up cyber security.

The reboot of NWIS, which is responsible for running IT systems for the NHS in Wales, hopes to bring to an end an era of health IT marred with problems caused by outdated systems and ageing architecture.

It follows a critical review of NWIS by Wales’s Public Accounts Committee in November 2018, which identified an unhealthy reliance on outdated IT systems.

It also identified 21 IT outages at NHS data centres in Wales in the first half of 2018 alone – the equivalent of approximately one outage every nine days.

In one such incident, two data centres went down simultaneously, affecting services at the Aneurin Bevan University Hospital Board and Powys Teaching Health Board.

NWIS put the incident down to a “technical glitch”, without expanding on its root cause.

Another of the Assembly’s 2018 findings was a lack of transparency within NWIS.

Committee chair Nick Ramsay subsequently said the inquiry “raised serious questions about the competence, capability and capacity across the health system to deliver a digital transformation” across the Welsh health system.

Vaughan Gething, Health and Social Services Minister for Wales, has commissioned four strategic reviews of digital health and care in Wales, which will lead to the publication of a national Digital Infrastructure Plan, Digital Workforce Plan, Commercial Strategy and a Communication Strategy for Wales in 2020.

The Minister said: “I want everyone in Wales to have access to the highest quality digital health and care services, including professionals, the public and patients.

“Two expert reviews have informed the plans I am announcing today. A new chief digital officer will strengthen leadership, setting common standards on an all-Wales basis. A new NHS Wales organisation focused on digital will strengthen the delivery of national services and an additional £50 million of investment into strategic priorities will speed up change.

“These are landmark changes, but there is more work to do, and I have commissioned further reviews in priority areas. I am determined that we maintain the pace of transformation, so that we use new digital technologies to benefit the public and patients in Wales, and to make our health and care services sustainable for future generations.”

The £50 million Digital Priorities Investment Fund will drive improvements across five areas:

  • Transforming digital services for patients and public
  • Transforming digital services for professionals
  • Investing in data and intelligent information
  • Modernising devices and moving to cloud services
  • Cyber-security and resilience

A fit-for-future healthcare service

The new NHS Wales will be a Special Health Authority with an independent chair and board, appointed by Welsh ministers.

A Healthier Wales, the Welsh Government’s strategy for health and care, identifies the development of digital services for future-proofing healthcare services.

Alongside strengthened leadership and delivery arrangements, it commits to significantly increased investment in digital.

In June, NHS Wales signed a £39 million, three-year deal with Microsoft to upgrade all 100,000 NHS Wales staff to Microsoft Office 365.

This came on the tail of a £3m investment in late 2018 to improve digital literacy within the Welsh NHS and give patients tools for accessing their health data online.

Responding to the announcement, Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “The announcement of a new NHS organisation focussed on digital services will provide some welcome clarity around governance and funding. Our members are committed to working closely with the Welsh Government to assist this transition.

“Digital services are going to play an increasingly vital role in how patients receive services and the NHS operates. What we need to see is greater digital innovation across the service to allow the public to access the right care, at the right time, in the right place and in a way that makes the best use of the services finite resources.

“The Welsh Government’s long-term plan for health and social care commits to a fully integrated national digital architecture, supported by significant investment, stronger national digital leadership and strengthened delivery arrangements. We look forward to seeing the progress that can be achieved in all these areas.

“We believe this is a positive step and we look forward to hearing more about how the new digital organisation is going to operate and seeing how we can support.”