50,000 healthcare staff with no direct computer access in their care setting

Almost 50,000 healthcare staff have no direct computer access in their care setting, a figure that was described as “shocking” by the Oireachtas committee on the future of healthcare.

Earlier in the session, the HSE’s information officer, Richard Corbridge, said that connecting the staff to “digital solutions” is one of their top three priorities.

However, committee chairwoman Róisín Shortall said the digital evolution of the health service had been very slow.

“The fact that 47,000 health staff have no access to any digital solution is quite a shocking figure in this day and age,” she said.

Ms Shortall said the vast majority of workers and, indeed, teenagers, had access to digital solutions for whatever work they were doing.

Mr Corbridge said they set a target last April to connect the 47,000 healthcare staff to digital solutions.

“What that means is giving them the ability to log on to a computer that will be in their care setting,” he said.

“Perhaps even more worrying is the 10,000 people within primary and community care have no devices and our programme to roll those out is well under way.”

Questioned further by Ms Shortall, Mr Corbridge confirmed that most healthcare staff would have access to digital solutions using an email account by Christmas.

Mr Corbridge also said it was intended that all GPs would be referring patients electronically to hospitals by April 1 next year. He said the implementation of an electronic referral into every hospital in Ireland was now complete.

More than 40% of GPs used the service in August, with 10,733 referrals handled by the digital service in the same month.

“This will clearly have an impact on waiting lists across the system and will create a significant cost reduction with the removal of the paper referral,” said Mr Corbridge, adding that the referral project is now moving to the next stage, where patients would be able to see their digital referral and make changes to the time and date.

“To move from three hospitals in Cork and Kerry capable of receiving an electronic referral to every hospital in Ireland in 12 months is rapid progress,” he said.

He pointed out that most GPs had computers already and that the referral system is designed so they would have easy access to it. A big “selling point” for using the digital service is that it saves GPs money because it does away with writing and posting letters.

“We have seen a very quick take-up of the electronic referral service,” said Mr Corbridge.

“We have a target that we have set ourselves within the HSE to have 100% of GPs using the electronic referral service by April 1 next year.

“That would be a giant leap forward because firstly it gives patients and us access to electronic referral. It also allows us to start to collect the information and use it in an anonymised way to manage the referral process and patterns.”

Ms Shortfall expressed disappointment that the individual health identifier talked about for many years and legislated for in 2014 had yet to be implemented.

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