Digitising Scotland’s NHS is Long Overdue

Jenny Marra | @JennyMarra

A blue vaccine envelope arrived at our house a few weeks ago for someone who has not lived here for many years. We know that this person has moved at least as far as another health board area, but they are obviously still on a GP’s books here. I started to wonder just how efficient the vaccine appointment system is.

On Sunday 16 May, I went off happily for my own vaccination and was surprised at how quiet the vaccine centre was. Staff expressed surprise that I was on time for my appointment. As recently retired Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee, I wondered at the efficiency of the vaccination programme. 

The media reports that the main vaccination centre in Glasgow is quiet with blue envelopes arriving for the wrong people at the wrong addresses all over the place. Is it not time we digitised the NHS? If Facebook and Twitter know our whereabouts at any given time, it should be within the power of our government and NHS Scotland in this day and age to at least have a system that can keep abreast of where we currently live?  

Scandal rocked NHS Tayside a few years ago when The Herald reported that money given by the public for charitable purposes was being transferred by the health board to core budgets.

A little remembered fact is that the board was trying to put investment into digital appointments. It did not justify the slight of hand with the accounts, but their intentions were correct.

I confirmed my appointment at the hairdressers this morning 48 hours in advance via a link sent by email. They obviously know that missed appointments cost them money. Specsavers call me 48 hours before I attend to remind me of my appointment, they text too. They know that time is money. Will the Auditor General tot up how much cash was wasted by missed appointments and envelopes arriving for unknown people at unknown addresses? 

If you’re a pregnant woman in Scotland, you still carry round a paper file of handwritten notes to the midwife appointment, to the consultant and away from home on a trip incase you go into labour. None of your notes are held at the touch of a button.

Women in Tayside who are currently having to travel to Aberdeen and Edinburgh for breast cancer treatment tell me that they arrive in Aberdeen and have to tell their story all over again. Their essential information is not held on computer. It begins to terrify if you consider the potential implications of this.  

This is easily rectified. All the power rests within Scotland to properly digitise our NHS.

Health would be improved as all health professionals get on the same page, and the money that would be saved could probably build half a dozen new hospitals.

It’s not sexy, it may not get Humza Yousaf on the front pages, but it is the obvious and long overdue thing to do, now. 

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