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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