GP practices will not be allowed to buy fax machines from January next year and the equipment will be phased out by end of March 2020, the Government has announced.
This measure, which is part of the Government’s tech vision for the health service, will also see NHS organisations being monitored on a quarterly basis until they are fully ‘fax free’.
Organisations will have to invest in modern technology, such as secure emails, to improve cyber security, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
The drive to increase usage of secure emails comes just a week after 1.2 million NHS staff were left with no access to their email accounts following internal software issues related to the NHSmail system.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock committed half a billion pounds to digitising the NHS in July, a move that followed his predecessor Jeremy Hunt in 2015 £1.3bn to see the NHS fully paperless by 2020.
From 1 October, NHS trusts have also been asked to only accept electronic referrals from GP practices, and providers were told they would only be paid for activity resulting from referrals made through the e-Referral Service (eRS).
‘Archaic fax machines’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I am instructing the NHS to stop buying fax machines and I’m setting a deadline for getting rid of them altogether.
‘Email is much more secure and miles more effective than fax machines. The NHS can be the best in the world – and we can start with getting rid of fax machines.’
This comes as the result of FOIs sent by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) to 124 NHS trusts found in July that hospital trusts in England own 8,946 fax machines.
Tracy Dell, practice manager at the Plane Trees Group Practice in Halifax told Management in Practice that practice managers mostly use fax machines for hospital correspondence they cannot send through encrypted digital methods.
She added: ‘Faxes cost the practice money – from purchase to the maintenance of equipment, consumables, line rental and call costs.
‘I will be terminating the use of our fax machine once we have assurance that an alternative method of communication to and from hospital departments is agreed.’
‘Highly valued and reliable’
At times, GPs and other healthcare professionals encounter obstacles accessing vital patient information quickly, if it is stored in another part of the health service, ‘having to rely on post or fax instead’, according to NHS England.
This prompted the Government to earlier this year announce five areas that will become local health and care record exemplars (LHCRE), to help them improve their ability to collect, protect and ethically use health and care data through the implementation of electronic shared local health and care records.
Commenting on Matt Hancock’s announcement, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘While fax machines may be terribly old-fashioned, they do work and remain a highly valued and reliable form of communication between many GP surgeries and their local hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies.
‘A wholesale switchover to electronic communication seems like a brilliant idea but for some practices it would require significant financial investment in robust systems to ensure their reliability was at least as good as the trusty fax machine, as well as having the time to embed.
Neither of which we have at present as GP teams are already beyond capacity trying to cope with unprecedented patient demand.’