An influential parliamentary committee has said it is ‘sceptical’ whether NHS England’s new e-Referrals system will be any more successful than Choose and Book, which it will replace from November.
In a report, published on Wednesday, the Commons Public Accounts Committee said Choose and Book was a ‘missed opportunity’, and said NHS England must ‘develop clear plans for how it intends to build up confidence in and utilisation of the new system’ if it was to avoid the underuse of its predecessor.
The PAC report stated that Choose and Book is used for just 50% of referrals at present, and this is costing the NHS £51m in potential annual savings and undermining data quality.
The criticisms of Choose and Book is a blow to the Government, as e-referrals systems are key to the Government’s target of achieving a paperless NHS by 2018.
The PAC’s report said: ‘The Choose and Book appointment booking system […] has been a missed opportunity to improve patient care and data quality. It cost £356m to March 2012, but has had a chequered history and is underutilised, which means that annual savings of up to £51m are being missed.’
It added: ‘Given the difficulty NHS England has had in getting GPs and others to use Choose and Book, we are sceptical about its ability to achieve full utilisation of e-Referrals.’
Choose and Book has been a source of GP frustration with outpatient slots not being properly uploaded, and in some cases being cancelled or delayed by managers, leaving GPs to deal with patient anger.
In summer last year, NHS England announced the scheme would be remodelled based on flight booking systems, but critics have said this won’t solve the problem of hospitals failing to upload appointments.
The committee gave its recommendations after interviewing former NHS England CEO Sir David Nicholson in February.
Sir David told the PAC that ‘[GPs] just don’t like the way the system works and it affects their patients they think they don’t want different ways, and we’ve been unable to persuade them of that.’
He added that NHS England were considering penalising GPs for not using the new e-referrals system if GPs still opted not to use it in future.