NHS banned from buying new fax machines as Hancock orders phase-out

NHS trusts will be banned from purchasing new fax machines beyond January 2019, after the health secretary ordered a complete phase-out of the technology by April 2020.

Under the directive of Matt Hancock, NHS organisations have been instructed to remove all fax machines from operation by 31 March 2020 and move toward more modern and secure methods of communication.

NHS organisations will be monitored on a quarterly basis until they declare themselves ‘fax free’, the Department of Health and Social Care announced on 9 November.

The directive forms part of Hancock’s tech vision for the NHS, which will eventually require digital health services and IT systems to meet a set of open standards to ensure they can talk to each other across organisational boundaries.

Any system that does not meet these standards will be phased out and the government will look to end contracts with health IT suppliers who refuse to play ball.

Hancock said he wanted to “bring [the NHS] into the 21st century and use the very best technology available.”

“We’ve got to get the basics right, like having computers that work and getting rid of the archaic fax machines still used across the NHS when everywhere else got rid of them years ago,” the health secretary said.

“I am instructing the NHS to stop buying fax machines and I’m setting a deadline for getting rid of them altogether. Email is much more secure and miles more effective than fax machines. The NHS can be the best in the world – and we can start with getting rid of fax machines.”

Fax off

Parts of the NHS have already made a move towards removing outdated tech from the health service, with the mission to phase out fax machines championed by Leeds Teaching Hospitals’ ‘Axe the Fax’ campaign.

Launched in September, the campaign encourages NHS organisations to commit to removing fax machines and share information, challenges and best practices that could help speed up the process. Previously, there has been no nationally-led incentive to do so.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals has pledged to remove 95% of some 320 remaining fax machines by 1 January 2019 and replace them will more modern processes, such as scan-to-email.

Richard Corbridge, CIO of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “There is a huge disjoint in the digitisation of the NHS. While some areas are looking at artificial intelligence, others are still faxing patient information from one area of the hospital to another.

“Today’s announcement that fax machines will not be purchased from next month and be banned from March 2020 is a landmark in the Axe the Fax campaign, which has been locally led and driven and received huge buy-in not only from NHS organisations across the country but as far as the US and Australia.”

The bid to eradicate fax machines followed a freedom of information request in July, which revealed a startling reliance on the technology within the NHS.

The request, made by the Royal College of Surgeons, found that there were some 9,000 fax machines still in use across the health service, which were scrapped by most other industries in the early 2000s.

Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Commission on the Future of Surgery, said: “It is ludicrous that so much of the NHS is still reliant on fax machines to communicate.

“There are very exciting technologies coming down the road that promise to transform the way we provide medical care to patients.

“The NHS needs a modern communications system that matches up to these technological advances.”

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