NHS trusts will not be allowed to buy fax machines from January next year and the equipment will be phased out by the 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 to do with 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 pledging £1.3bn to see the NHS fully paperless by 2020.
‘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.
RCS chair of the Commission on the Future of Surgery Mr Richard Kerr said: ‘Most other organisations scrapped fax machines in the early 2000s and it is high time the NHS caught up. The RCS supports the ban on fax machines that will come into place in March 2020.’
He added that a series of trusts joined the ‘axe the fax’ campaign – initially launched by Leeds Teaching Hospital – since they published the FOI data.
The DHSC also said that digital and IT systems will have to adhere to a set of standards – which form part of Mr Hancock’s policy paper, The future of healthcare: our vision for digital, data and technology in health and care – to ensure the systems can be continuously updated and information can flow across organisational boundaries.
Failure to comply with these standards will see the IT providers’ contracts terminated, the DHSC said.
Earlier this year, the Government announced 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.
According to NHS England, GPs and other care professionals often encounter obstacles in accessing vital patient information quickly if it is stored in another part of the health service, ‘sometimes having to rely on post or fax instead’.
From 1 October, NHS trusts have also been asked to only accept electronic referrals from GP practices, while providers were told they would only be paid for activity resulting from referrals made through the e-Referral Service (eRS).