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Patients to receive unique numbers to improve safety


Leo Vardakar

Leo Vardakar

Leo Vardakar

Patients are to be issued with unique identity numbers for the first time in a move the health watchdog says will reduce the risk of errors in medication and surgical procedures.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) said that the Individual Health Identifier (IHI) was a unique, non-transferable number assigned to all people using health and social care services in Ireland, which will last for their lifetime. It said that the system will improve patient safety.

“Its purpose is to accurately identify the person, enabling health and social care to be delivered to the right patient, in the right place and at the right time,” the body said.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the initiative would be “a major step forward in modernising our health service”.

A business unit within the HSE will manage the roll-out of the IHI numbers. It will be trialled across three clinical areas this year.

No medical or clinical information will be stored on the health identifier record.

HIQA’s acting director of health information Rachel Flynn said there were a number of reasons why people’s PPS numbers could not be used instead of the new health identifiers.

“The PPS number was set up for public services,” she said.

“We looked at this very carefully. Basically, what it comes down to is we need a number that transcends both the public and private sector – and the PPS number doesn’t do that.


“All European countries have unique health identifiers,” she added.

She said that IHIs were essential in ensuring patient safety and improving the sharing of healthcare information between doctors.

“By uniquely identifying service users, it is possible to reduce the number of adverse events that may occur, such as giving the patient incorrect medication or vaccinations, or admitting an incorrect patient for surgery. The use of health identifiers will also reduce duplication and administration work, making them both cost-effective and time-effective,” she said.

Ms Flynn told the Herald that people would not have to remember their numbers. They can present normally to a service and give them identifiable data that can be looked up on a central system.

While no medical information will be stored on the health identifier record, an individual’s personal details such as their name, date of birth, and address can be contained on it.

The HSE will work across three clinical areas this year to trial the use of the IHIs in clinical information systems; these will be the epilepsy electronic patient record, one multi-GP general practice and the electronic medical record within a hospice.

A HSE spokesperson said that it has started to build the necessary infrastructure to implement the identifier and is currently conducting a privacy impact assessment – to ensure privacy risks are addressed.

“The cost of implementation will be covered within existing resources,” she said.