Launch of BCS Health Northern Ireland

BCS Health Northern Ireland was officially launched on 21 January, with a conference at the Spires Conference Centre in Belfast. Paul J McCullagh, BCS Health Northern Ireland Committee, reports on the launch.

Health informatics in Northern Ireland was previously organised as part of the BCS Health Informatics Forum. BCS Health Northern Ireland is the new regional forum for knowledge sharing in health informatics and connected health in Northern Ireland, with participation across the stakeholder groups including: health and social care professionals, HSC informatics and records professionals, government, industry, academia and service users.

The group was launched on behalf of BCS by Jean Roberts, who conveyed best wishes from Matthew Swindells, Chair of BCS Health.

State of play

The population of Northern Ireland is projected to rise from 1.71 million in 2004 to 1.82 million by 2024. Over the next 20 years both demographic and social trends will bring into sharp focus the need for services which are capable of meeting the needs of the increased number of people who will be living alone. Those services may also have to cater for high levels of social deprivation and the implications of sustaining rural communities. There will also be higher levels of disability as people live with chronic illness. 

BCS Health Northern Ireland aims to promote the development and use of health informatics and connected health in Northern Ireland to support effective, efficient, evidence-based, health and social care in areas of research, education, practice and in management decision making. This is intended to benefit the health of individuals, communities and populations that receive health and social care services and the staff and organisations that deliver health and related services.


The conference theme was Open+Health. It was the second of the biennial OpenIsland all-island conferences organised by open-n.i and OpenIreland. These are two multi-agency organisations with a shared mission, ‘to strategically promote awareness, understanding, development and uptake of free and open source software across both the private and public sectors, as well as enhancing the competitiveness of the indigenous software sector by exploiting the opportunities offered by open source business models’.

The conference comprised of invited presentations from:

  • Colin Smith and Joseph Molin (World Vista), who addressed improving quality of care using an open source electronic patient record system. Supporting data was presented from a large population within the Veterans Association in North America.
  • Peter Murray (Vice President, International Medical Informatics Association), who championed the open source philosophy. In particular, he cited the Open Steps Project, the UK and international priorities for free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) in the health informatics domain.
  • Prof Piotr Durka (University of Warsaw), who provided an academic perspective on open source authoring and collaboration for biosignal information collection, storage, retrieval and interoperability using SignalML (developed and distributed under General Public Licence v3). He also cited open source and software licence approaches to brain computer interface research, OpenBCI and BRAIN.
  •  Dr Howard Johnston, who demonstrated the power of Health Atlas Ireland, which provides geographical interpretation of statistical health data.

Regional perspectives

Local and regional perspectives were at the forefront of discussion.

  • Gerard Hurl (National Director of ICT in the Health Services Executive in Ireland) discussed the challenge of providing health care in the Republic of Ireland and cited the lack of domain specialists in health informatics as a major obstacle.
  • Dr Hubert Curran (European Centre for Connected Health) tackled the huge issue of connected health and its role in promoting well-being, as tele-health solutions become more widely available. As a general practitioner, he discussed obstacles for uptake from primary care.
  • Professor Roy Harper (Consultant Physician and Chair of BCS Health Northern Ireland) provided the case for preventative health care, particularly in his specialist area of diabetes care. He discussed the significant increased incidence of chronic diseases and conditions which presents a huge challenge globally. He went on to say: ‘We will have an ageing population, significant rising cost of managing chronic disease and finite resources to provide that care. Hence the development of cost-effective, open and connected health service solutions to meet users’ needs will be core to maintaining and improving the quality of healthcare and the quality of life for the people of Northern Ireland.’ He then went on to cite collaborations with academia and health users as being important to this collaborative approach.
  • Dr Liming Chen (University of Ulster) provided an academic perspective of assisted living applications and described projects which are already benefiting the local population with partnerships with FOLD telecare and The Cedar Foundation.
  • Jonathan Wallace (University of Ulster’s Director of Knowledge & Technology Transfer in the Faculty of Computing and Engineering), explained that computer technology will have an increasingly important role to play in healthcare services as Northern Ireland and the world’s population rises and ages over the next 20 years.

The conference was attended by approximately 150 people and brought together key stakeholders in connected health from the health trusts, academia, industry and government to share their knowledge and experience of using open and connected technologies to improve service delivery and health and well-being. 

Participants were also invited to take part in a summit workshop (Jan 22 at the University of Ulster), which provided an opportunity for decision-makers to address key questions on the future strategy of open and connected health delivery and its evolution across a regional, national, European and global context and move the discussion towards specific recommendations and actions.

BCS Health Northern Ireland website

Spring 2010