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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has banned the NHS from buying fax machines and has ordered a complete phase-out by April 2020.
Part of the Department for Health and Social Care’s tech vision, to modernise the health service and make it easier for NHS organisations to introduce innovative technologies, NHS trusts will be required to invest in new technology to replace outdated systems until they are able to declare themselves ‘fax free’.
It was revealed in July that more than 8,000 fax machines are still being used by the NHS in England. Now, the new phasing out plan means that digital services and IT systems will have to meet a clear set of open standards to ensure they can talk to each other across organisational boundaries and can be continuously upgraded. The government will look to end contracts with providers who do not understand these principles for the health and care sector.
Richard Corbridge, Chief Digital and Information Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospital, said: “Turning off the fax is a step in the delivery of integrated care and a leap forward in putting healthcare information in the right hands every time it is needed. We don’t underestimate the enormity of the challenge to remove all our machines in such a short time frame, but we simply cannot afford to continue living in the dark ages.
“The ‘axe the fax’ campaign aims to empower staff rather than disarm them and so far the feedback has been positive – staff are recognising that on the one hand we have hugely innovative technology being implemented in the trust and on the other we have technology that hasn’t existed for decades in other industries.”
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "It's highly ironic that the world is in the middle of a technical 'tsunami' and yet the NHS is still reliant on equipment such as fax machines. However, 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.
"GPs are tech fans, not technophobes, and we have been calling on the government for significant investment in our core IT infrastructure, some of which is archaic, so that all GP practices have technology that improves communication, works for patients and makes the working lives of GPs easier."
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