§ Ms. Harman
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) what plans he has to improve the information available on child health by computerising information about surveillance and preventive procedures on the lines of the standard child health system developed by the National Health Service computing committee; and if he will make a statement;
(2) what plans he has to ensure that systems of computerised information about child health surveillance and preventive procedures become compatible throughout the country within the next 10 years.
§ Mrs. Currie
Computer-based systems for child health have been available to health authorities in England since the late 1960s. The first such were provided by local authorities, but from the early to mid-1970s health authorities began to develop their own requirements. The main purpose is to provide call and recall systems for vaccination and immunisation, and statistical information useful for epidemiological research into population drift, epidemics and so on. Facilities more recently offered include provision of pre-school developmental assessment, full screening for school children, for example, rubella, sight, hearing, dental fitness and so on, and more sophisticated statistics packages for management and epidemiological purposes.
The main recent development has been the national child health computer system, originally funded by DHSS and Welsh Office, as one of the major elements in the standard systems programme. It is now administered by a consortium of user authorities and the development work is undertaken by the Welsh Health Computer Services Agency and the South Western regional health authority on behalf of the users in England and Wales.
It is in use in some 132 health districts in 11 English health regions, and in nine districts in Wales, with others indicating their interest. The cost to each health authority taking the system is around £3,500 per annum to include support and software updates. Although originally developed for use on ICL equipment (hence it has been limited to those health regions with a traditional ICL expertise), a recent development, in collaboration with South Western RHA, has been to produce some software to allow health authorities with DEC/MUMPS equipment to make use of the system. There are also facilities to allow a wider range of other computer equipment to be connected to the system, thus expanding its potential 355W marketability to virtually every health authority. The system has also attracted much interest from overseas health services.
Decisions about the introduction of computer systems are matters for individual health authorities to determine within their own priorities and resources, However, the Department is exploring with health authorities the best way to achieve integrated community health care information systems, using recently available computing technologies, but building on the infrastructure created via the national child health computer system. This may fairly be describe as a success story in the history of NHS computing development.