GPs must send patients emails rather than letters, says health secretary Matt Hancock.
Speaking at an NHS England conference on Wednesday, Mr Hancock said email must replace letters, arguing they are just as secure but also cheaper than communicating through paper and fax machines.
Clinicians should email patients directly with appointment information to reduce delays and cut wastage, he said.
This comes as part of the health secretary’s digital vision for the NHS, which was heavily promoted in the NHS long-term plan.
NHS organisations will be able to use ‘any secure email provider – not just NHSMail – if it meets the required security settings’, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
This will allow NHS organisations to ‘choose the best service for their needs’ and will encourage email providers to ‘innovate’, it added.
In his speech, Mr Hancock said: ‘Our mission now is to make it as easy as possible for GPs to communicate safely and securely with their patients and colleagues.
‘There is no reason why a doctor cannot email a patient confidentially, for example with their test results or prescription, rather than make them wait days for a letter or ask them to come into the surgery. The rest of the world runs on email – and the NHS should too.’
Anonymous Twitter user @Practice_Mngr responded to the news on Wednesday, tweeting: ‘So are you giving the green light for health care to send confidential medical information outside of secure NHS servers @MattHancock ?’
Yesterday the user added: ‘We don’t need shiny things. We need the basics to be right first.’
Steve Williams, co-chair of the Practice Management Network, said the cost-saving impact is ‘obvious’ as the NHS and individual practices spend over £100m on patient letters every year.
He added: ‘Of course, the concept of a paperless practice is not a new idea. Achieving it will be dependant on a number of factors. Do patients wish not to receive a letter? Do they have access to IT to allow them to receive it electronically?
‘We must cater for all patients and this may mean that we have to accept that we are never always going to be truly paper free.’
In December last year, Mr Hancock announced fax machines would be phased out of the NHS, meaning that trusts can no longer buy them through the NHS supply chain.
As of last year, NHS trusts owned over 8,000 fax machines. Mr Hancock has instructed the NHS to be fax-free by 31 March 2020.
A version of this story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.