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Mandatory electronic patient referrals to save NHS millions

Mandatory electronic patient referrals to save NHS millions

Mandatory online patient referrals through the NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS) will save the NHS £50m, NHS Digital has said.
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Mandatory online patient referrals through the NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS) will save the NHS £50m, NHS Digital has said.

Moving to electronic first outpatient referrals only from October 2018 will halve the number of missed appointments – from 10 to 5% – and produce NHS savings of no less than £50m.

At the moment, 19 Trusts are fully using NHS e-RS.

‘Relieving GPs burden’

National medical director of the NHS e-RS programme Dr Stephen Miller said that it helps to ‘relieve the burden on GPs by cutting down on their paperwork and reducing the number of patients who go back to them to find out what is happening with their hospital appointment’.

He continued: ‘The system also reduces the risk of letters going missing and allows doctors to more easily track their patients’ referrals.’

NHS Digital’s figures showed that in 2016/17, nearly eight million outpatient appointments were not attended, which represents 6.7% of all appointments in England.

Reducing waiting times

First outpatient appointment waiting times vary between hospitals. According to NHS England’s latest annual report, in 2016/17 the median wait for non-admitted pathway treatment, also known as outpatient waiting times, was six weeks.

Dr Chris Markwick, GP at Carmel Medical Practice in Darlington, argued that the ‘e-RS has enormous benefits for patients in terms of shortening their waiting time’.

He added: ‘Time from first consultation in primary care to first appointment in secondary care is reduced.

‘It also allows you to compose and share a referral letter with the patient present, ensuring they are kept informed and understand what the referral is for and that it is accurate.

‘This can also form the basis of your notes. e-RS gives you the assurance of knowing when the patient’s appointment is going to be, which, if there is a long wait, allows you to plan any follow-up you might need before they are seen.’

NHS Digital launched a Just e-Referrals campaign to ‘save doctors time and money in the long run’, it said.

Achieving e-referrals within the NHS follows the Five Year Forward View’s (FYFV) commitment to have national paperless patient records by 2020. 

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