The NHS has been ordered to phase out the still widespread use of faxes and cease all purchasing of new fax machines within 15 months, in a bid to break persistent reliance on the aging technology.
A Royal College of Surgeons report in July revealed that over 8,000 fax machines are in use across the NHS’s estate. The ban, ordered by Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, takes effect next month.
Richard Corbridge, Chief Digital and Information Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospital, said: “We simply cannot afford to continue living in the dark ages… Turning off the fax is a step in the delivery of integrated care and a leap forward in putting healthcare information in the right hands every time it is needed.”
Richard Kerr, Chair of the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery, added: “Advances in artificial intelligence, genomics and imaging for healthcare promise exciting benefits for patients.”
He concluded: “As these digital technologies begin to play a bigger part in how we deliver healthcare it is crucial that we invest in better ways of communicating the vast amount of patient information that is going to be generated.Most other organisations scrapped fax machines in the early 2000s and it is high time the NHS caught up.”
NHS Struggling to Optimise Data Analytics
The shift comes as the NHS has struggled to optimise data use (with many forms of data still held on paper, e.g. faxes, or on disparate databases) as it looks to tackle an estimated £1.25 billion annual fraud problem across the National Health Service.
It is also making a push to a hybrid email system that spans email provision by Microsoft Office 365 and the NHSmail system provided by Accenture, which faced an NHS-wide outage last week.
The ban on buying fax machines takes effect from January 2019. They will be phased out by 31 March 2020. NHS organisations will be monitored on a quarterly basis until they declare themselves ‘fax free’.
The move was described in a government announcement as part of the Health and Social Care Secretary’s tech vision, to modernise the health service and make it easier for NHS organisations to introduce innovative technologies.
Mark Hastings, Director of Public Sector Transformation at consultancy Rainmaker, said: “Fax machines in 2018, really? Ditching them is a step in the right direction, but it’s time for the NHS time to look seriously at how it shares information and ensures that the platforms they use are truly fit for purpose rather than a ragtag of legacy systems and third-party apps.”
He added: “In doing so, the NHS needs to focus on the user and view its technology from the ground up. Only properly integrated systems, incorporating adequate security, will truly enable healthcare professionals to focus on what they do best – saving lives.”