GPs are resorting to fax and post to refer patients today after the new e-referrals system malfunctioned last night and was taken offline completely.
The system will remain offline until ‘technical difficulties’ with the server are resolved, Pulse has been told.
The system was launched on Monday of this week but was suffering a range of issues affecting practices’ ability to log on, with GPs telling Pulse they were forced to delay referrals as a result.
This followed months of delay to tackle bugs in the system that had been identified before the original launch date which was planned for October 2014.
A Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) spokesperson said: ‘We are experiencing some technical difficulties. We are working hard to resolve these issues as quickly as possible and to keep disruption to a minimum. We will continue to update users regularly and are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused.’
Dr Neil Bhatia, a GP in Hampshire, told Pulse: ‘At the moment we can’t do anything. So we’re basically doing referrals as we’ve always done, we type a letter and we have an internal post system that sends it to our local hospital.’
The HSCIC has brought in the new system to replace the unpopular Choose and Book, which was plagued by unexpected crashes and a lack of appointments added by consultants and was used by fewer than 50% of GPs.
Dr Bhatia said: ‘What will happen is people will stop using it, you lose momentum. When you use it and it doesn’t work, eventually you realise you’re far better off not using the system in the first place.’
The e-referral system may not remain optional though, with NHS England having suggested that practices failing to adopt it may face penalities. Meanwhile, some CCGs have said they intend to only accept electronic referrals going forward.
Deputy chair of the GPC IT subcommittee, Dr Grant Ingrams, said thje problems were ‘a pain in the butt’ and creating extra work for GPs and receptionists.
He added: ‘You do feel sometimes it would be better to tie a letter to the back of a tortoise and point it in the right direction.’