All referrals will be electronic by 2018, when it could become part of the national tariff, NHS England (NHSE) has pledged.
NHS England has said that it “has set aside £55 million to reward GPs and hospitals” for switching to digital referrals. However, the press release goes on to say that NHSE will provide “up to £55 million”, casting doubt on the actual figure that will be given.
At the moment around 50% of patients are referred for hospital appointments electronically. It is intended this will increase rapidly to 60% by September 2016, 80% by 2017 and 100% by 2018.
The money will be given directly to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) through the 2016-17 Quality Premium, a scheme that was designed to reward CCGs for improvements in quality of services.
However, the funding could stop in 2018, as digital referrals may become a condition of the national tariff, meaning that commissioners and providers would no longer be paid for referrals made by paper.
“Under these plans, patients will leave their GP practice with a scheduled appointment in the diary, ending the days of anxious waits for the post to arrive and frustrating calls to chase hospital letters,” the statement from NHSE reads.
Completing referrals electronically allows GPs to book in patients’ hospital appointments right away and offer them a choice of date. This comes after research from the National Audit Office (NAO) has suggested that if patients choose the date of their hospital appointment themselves, they are 50% less likely to miss it.
Beverley Bryant, director of digital technology at NHS England, said:“For a long time our first class healthcare system has been let down by outmoded systems, where patients are referred to hospital by second class post.
“We have a duty of care that extends beyond providing effective treatments. We must also provide an effective patient experience that ensures patients feel reassured at a time when they are most vulnerable,” she added.