Exclusive GPs are being forced to delay patient referrals because of a range of technical problems with the new NHS e-referrals service, which launched today to replace Choose and Book.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has said in a technical update that there are currently 33 unresolved problems affecting the system, with GPs telling Pulse they are unable to even log on.
The known problem list reveals GPs are also experiencing severe delays in attaching files and loading lists of referrals requiring action. There are also problems with the appointment search function and a number of reports which used to be available via Choose and Book are no longer accessible.
A statement posted on the HSCIC website this morning said: ‘We are aware there is a problem affecting all users of the NHS e-referral service and we are investigating.’
Dr Faisal Bhutta, a GP partner in Manchester, told Pulse his practice regularly used Choose and Book but he has been unable to make referrals this morning and his local Commissioning Support Unit had said this was a national issue.
He told Pulse: ‘You can’t actually log in. You can’t make a referral. We always use Choose and Book, now we’re having to defer the referral and asking the tech team to do a letter when the system goes online. They have said they will email when the system is sorted.’
Dr Andrew Mimnagh, a GP in Sefton, told Pulse his first patient of the morning had needed a referral but spent ‘25 minutes of watching the hamster wheel [loading icon] whilst waiting for a UBRN (reference number) instead’.
He added that so far he has only been able to log on for one out of four patients.
The disruption is unlikely to fill GPs with confidence in the new scheme, which HSCIC has already warned will not solve all issues that have dogged the Choose and Book system, such as consultants not posting available appointments online for GPs to refer to.
The launch date of the new e-referrals system was already pushed back, having originally been planned for last October, due to delays in testing and assurance and HSCIC had warned there could be disruption caused by the initial launch this week.
A HSCIC spokesperson told Pulse this afternoon: ‘The transition to the new NHS e-Referral service was made at 1.30am on Monday 15 June, but as the numbers of users to the system increased throughout the morning, we experienced some technical difficulties which have prevented users from accessing the service.
‘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.’