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Over half of NHS trusts ‘switch off’ paper GP referrals

More than half of trusts have switched off paper referrals and are now only processing GP referrals digitally, NHS Digital has said.

Some 79 trusts have now exclusively started using the NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS) – with a further 10 expected to switch off paper referrals by the end of June.

The GP contract for 2018/19 included an investment of £10m to support all GP practices to implement the e-RS by 1 October 2018, with GPs no longer being paid for activity which results from referrals that were not made through the e-RS.

However, GP leaders have previously said NHS England ‘would take a supportive, rather than punitive, approach in cases where practices are unable to meet the October deadline’.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were the first trusts to start processing all of their hospital referral appointments electronically via e-RS last year.

In April, Greater Manchester became the first geographical region to be entirely running a digital process, according to NHS Digital.

Eve Roodhouse, NHS Digital’s director of implementation and the digital environment, said: ‘It is really encouraging that we have hit this major milestone and it’s an incredible achievement which is the result of a lot of hard work from all involved.

‘e-RS puts the patient at the heart of the referral because it allows patients to book an appointment at a location, date and time that is convenient to them.

‘Not only that, but the booking is immediate, speeding up the time it takes to be treated and reducing the number of appointments where the patient fails to attend by up to half.’

However, GPs in Kent were asked to ‘hold urgent referrals’ for 24 hours last month after an IT failure at a local hospital trust, with GPs fearing that switching off of paper referrals will compromise patient care.