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Independents' Day

Health secretary bans GP practices from using fax machines

GP practices will not be allowed to buy fax machines from January next year and will not be allowed to use them beyond March 2020, the health secretary has announced.

The measure, which is part of the Government’s technology vision for the health service, will 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.

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.’

The news comes as NHS trusts have been told to only accept electronic referrals from GP practices from October this year, with hospitals only being paid for activity resulting from referrals made through the e-Referral Service (eRS).

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘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.’

A version of this article was first featured by Pulse's sister title Management in Practice

Readers' comments (21)

  • Nice legacy

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  • First time I’ve agreed with Prof HSL!

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  • David Banner

    When the super-duper, hi-tech, future-proof and failure-proof IT systems crash (as they do, again and again and again), then thank God for useless, outdated and obsolete fax machines.

    Banning them is a ridiculous over reaction. The Health Secretary should either find and fund a 100% guaranteed 21st century back up system or pipe down and let us get on with the job using the meagre tools available to us.

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  • Headline needs changing. There is a difference between buying and using. I'm not really sure how he can stop us doing either.

    There is a big difference from a fax arriving with the noise+paper produced compared to an email which may just sit in an inbox and go unnoticed.

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  • Banning is such an odd intervention.

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  • Is this really the intervention we need now? What proof can he offer for "much more secure and miles more effective"? If they were not useful and had no advantages over email, we'd have stopped using them naturally. The fact that he thinks he needs to impose a ban (or try to) speaks for itself.

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  • Cobblers

    Mr Hancock you can ban the NHS from buying fax machines but anyone tell you that GPs are not part of the NHS? You can't ban them from buying faxes if it makes business sense to do so.

    In fact consider the fax machine as Plan B, a "Backstop" arrangement in case of IT failure (virus, hacking, DDOS attack). Or maybe letters via the post aka Plan C?

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  • I think the NHS cannot be saved seeing decisions like this.Especially during times like these.
    Another stick for CQC to bash us with?
    How many times has the IT system crashed at my surgery. The patients actually love it and you can actually have some eye contact without looking at the screen.

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  • Ban the most reliable bit of it in a GP practice.What a numpty.

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  • Populist and short sighted idea. So when wanacry 2 strikes and all fancy new software is down, and I am unable to send an urgent referral digitally or by fax machine, I will suggest my patients who is responsible for delays in their assessments or treatments.
    Matt, mate, my best advice, go back to playing Fotnight, this is all you seem to know. Best to leave grown ups to do grown up job.

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