We need an NHS Wales App to allow us all to be able to access key health services. On the face of it, the news that the NHS Wales app is starting its next testing phase isn’t the most exciting, but it is highly significant.
I have been calling for such an app as part of our Welsh Conservative NHS Tech Bundle for a while now, and it has been extremely frustrating to see ministers in Cardiff Bay fall far behind in its delivery, especially when considering it has been running in England for nearly four years already.
NHS users in England have access to the NHS App which is connected to every GP practice in England – users can order prescriptions, message or consult a GP or professional through an online form, access health services on behalf of someone they care for, view their GP health record, and manage their first hospital or clinic appointment with a specialist through the NHS e-referral service.
That’s right – for the last four years, patients across England, which is just a few miles down the road for most of us in Montgomeryshire, have had access to this relatively simply piece of technology for the last four years while we’ve had to make do with spending hours on hold over the phone or waiting weeks for a letter to find out this information.
But, in Wales, there have been delays, and whilst I am encouraged to hear that the app is aiming to have greater functionality, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth to know that we still don’t have that app and we still look at our English friends’ current app with jealousy.
I recall many constituents getting in touch with me a couple of years ago when people would need to prove their Covid vaccination status to enter certain establishments. If you went to England and had tickets for the theatre, for example, that summer, you had to bring a paper certificate saying so because there was no app to prove your status, unlike in England.
Shockingly, the Covid tracing app was delayed in Wales because of an insistence of developing a Wales-only brand, before the Welsh Government caved and went for the UK Government’s one – they said it would be ready by May last year but it didn’t happen.
What is most frustrating is that if people had this app over the last four years, clerical staff and medical professionals, particularly GPs, could have been spared several hours a day from dealing with patients who could otherwise have used the app to find out the information they needed. This would have meant less admin, more appointments made and patients seen, shorter waiting lists, people returning to their jobs quicker, and a more productive workforce.
It would have also meant less anxiety and waiting for people to get the information they were seeking. This delay, not experienced by those in England, has had an emotional and economic cost.
Going forward, I want to see swift progress and no more delays, so people across Wales – especially those of us in Mid Wales that will need an app to integrate with the English system given the high degree of cross-border engagement that we have when it comes to our health – get the technology we need to revolutionise our healthcare. I look forward to getting clearer timelines on this soon.