e-health covers care practices supported by electronic processes and communication.
E-health is the future of healthcare. It allows health and social care organisations across the world to deliver innovative care at the same time as fostering economic growth and job creation.
Northern Ireland has the fastest growing population in the UK, and an increasing ageing population. It is estimated that between 2010 and 2025 the number of people over 65 will increase by over 40 per cent and the number over 85 is expected to almost double.
While this is undoubtedly a positive thing, it will mean ever-increasing demands on our healthcare resources. We need to look at new and innovative ways to meet the enormous challenges facing our health service. Transforming Your Care is a framework for the delivery of health and social care which puts the patient and client at the heart of the system. The imaginative use of innovative technologies is a vital part of this.
Northern Ireland is really leading the way in e-health, but because of our size, it is important that we in Northern Ireland develop networks and collaborations across Europe and North America so that we can take advantage of working as part of a larger alliance and learning and sharing from each of our experiences.
That is why I have attended a number of major e-health events in the US and Europe. I am also fully committed to working across government, the health and social care sector, business and academia to identify opportunities to innovate and drive economic growth.
We now have buy-in to the concept of e-health, or connected health, at a political level. Evidence of this can be found in the Northern Ireland Executive’s Programme for Government and also in its Economic Strategy, which focus on long-term conditions management and healthcare innovation.
There is a growing understanding of the potential, not only for our health and social care system but also for our economy and our society as a whole.
So there is a real momentum behind the e-health agenda and we are now beginning to see the results emerging in terms of service delivery.
For instance, we are rolling out an electronic care record, which facilitates the secure accessing and sharing of information across the health and social care system. It has the potential to bring significant improvements in quality, speed, safety and clinical outcomes for patients, helping to reduce time spent searching for records and allowing clinicians more time to treat patients.
We also have our own Centre of Connected Health and Social Care through which we have seen the roll-out across Northern Ireland of telemonitoring. This innovative project represents an investment of £18 million and we hope to see it benefit some 20,000 patients over the next six years. Telemonitoring enables patients with chronic illnesses such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), diabetes and heart disease to have their vital signs monitored by a healthcare professional, normally on a daily basis, without having to leave their homes. More regular monitoring enables more timely interventions, which can prevent deterioration of conditions and acute illness, thereby leading to reduced hospital admissions.
There are some excellent examples in our hospitals of creativity and innovation in the use of technology to improve the delivery of health services while making the best possible use of resources.
The Southern Health and Social Care Trust is the first in the UK to use the Telepresence robot which enables intensive care specialists from Craigavon Area Hospital to remotely assess patients in Daisy Hill Hospital.
The robot allows real-time patient observation, examination and interaction between staff in the two locations. It has the ability to transmit heart and breath sounds and can sometimes prevent the need to transfer patients to intensive care. This truly is the cutting edge of innovation in our Health Service and makes the best use of health resources to the benefit of patients.
I believe that in Northern Ireland we now have the necessary elements in place to enable innovation to become fully embedded into healthcare service delivery. I believe that we can now begin to realise our connected health and prosperity vision, and in so doing significantly enhance the quality of health and social care for all the people of Northern Ireland while at the same time boosting the local economy.