All hospital trusts in the north of England have now completed the switch to the e-Referral Service (e-RS), six weeks ahead of the October deadline.
The 47 hospitals and 2,479 GP practices in the north now receive all of their referrals for first outpatient appointments through the NHS e-RS, a service that allows patients to book an initial hospital or clinic appointment at the point of referral at the GP surgery, later at home, on the phone or online.
The NHS standard contract for 2018/19 requires all consultant-led first outpatient appointments to be made through e-RS from 1 October.
NHS Digital said 88% of trusts nationally have now switched over completely. Alongside the north, the south west has also fully made the move to e-RS for outpatient appointments, and the Midlands is ‘not far off’, according to a spokesperson for NHS Digital.
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust was the first in the north of England to go fully paper-free for first outpatient referrals in July.
Dr Chris Markwick, GP at Carmel Medical Practice in Darlington, said: ‘One of the main benefits is that patients have shorter waiting times. They also have the flexibility of being able to re-book appointments online at a more convenient time.’
Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust said the move to e-RS means patients receive their appointments eight days faster, on average.
Martin Spotswood, NHS Digital implementation and business change region head for the North, said: ‘This is a fantastic achievement by all the hospitals in the region and an excellent boost for patients across the north who will now be able to manage their appointments to suit their needs.’
Janet King, regional lead for information and technology at NHS England, said: ‘This is great news for the north region. It’s an excellent example of how health and IT professionals are working together to make real benefits for the people living in the north region.’
‘The removal of paper referrals speeds up the booking process, removes the risk of missing letters and enables both the patient and clinician to track the referral.’
The NHS Digital announcement follows a report by think tank Parliament Street which found that NHS trusts have reported almost 10,000 patient records stolen or misplaced in the course of one year.
The report, NHS Data Security: Protecting Patient Records, suggested that overall 9,132 patient records from 68 hospitals were missing over the last financial year
It found that 95% of NHS trusts still use ‘unreliable methods’ of documentation, such as handwritten notes, despite having digital systems in place.