NHS safety fears over ban on fax machines and ‘default’ use of e-mail

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock. PA
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock. PA
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Plans to phase out fax machines in the NHS and make e-mail the default way of contacting patients have raised safety fears among doctors’ leaders.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said healthcare staff should e-mail instead of relying on letters which can mean “the difference between life and death” if lost.

He told an NHS England conference that e-mail should be the default means of communicating for the health service by 2021.

Mr Hancock already ordered the NHS to cease using faxes by next year. He said: “Having to deal with outdated technology is hugely frustrating for staff and patients alike and in many cases, downright dangerous.

“A letter lost in the post could be the difference between life and death.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors agreed that the NHS needs to move with the times.

But she said: “Current IT systems in the NHS are often clunky and frustrating, but there isn’t an easy fix, and it is difficult to see how the wholesale changes being advocated can be done safely in the timescales being spoken about.”

Prof Stokes-Lampard said the need for new and secure IT systems may need “significant financial investment” at GP practices.

She said there must by sufficient back-up arrangements in case new technology starts to malfunction.

She said: “The issue with simply banning fax machines in the NHS is that they work, they are a reliable form of communication between different sectors of the health and social care system, and they perform functions that other methods of communication can’t.

“For example, a faxed signature can be used in a court of law or to permit prescriptions to be issued, whereas when it comes to health matters, often a signature on a printed e-mail is not permissible.”