NHS e-Referral service delayed until spring 2015

The NHS has delayed the launch of the system that will replace Choose and Book to allow further time for testing

The NHS has delayed the launch of the replacement for its Choose and Book hospital appointment system until spring 2015 to allow further time for testing.

The new NHS e-Referral service was due to go live later this year. It is replacing the £356m Choose and Book system, despite this being regarded as one of the few successes of the failed £12.7bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT)

Choose and Book was introduced in 2004 to enable patients needing an outpatient appointment to select, with their GP, a hospital appointment at a convenient date and time.

“The decision [to delay] has been taken to ensure there is confidence that there will be no disruption to patient care for the 40,000 patients who use the service every day and to ensure over 60 million referrals are safely and securely transferred into the NHS e-Referral Service,” said a statement on the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) website.

“Delivery highlights to date include a successful transition to a replacement supplier for the Telephone Appointment Line, the building of a new NHS e-Referral Service infrastructure to host the future service, and a new, modern, open-source-based software which has been developed and is now being tested. There remains, however, a significant test, assurance and defect resolution activity to complete for us to be able to sign off the system as ready,” the statement said.

The e-Referrals system is being developed using agile methods and open technologies, in contrast to its predecessor. But in July 2014, it failed a service assessment by the Government Digital Service (GDS) because it was not able to meet 11 of the 26 criteria for the "digital by default" service standard.

“The service is being developed in a highly complex stakeholder environment. The service team has successfully introduced, through its use of external suppliers, some elements of agile working, and is working towards being able to expand this as it introduces an ability to release more frequently and cost-effectively,” said the GDS assessment report.

"The team has achieved some positive outcomes so far in respect of stakeholder engagement, using open-source platforms, getting away from vendor lock-in, and contributing to open standards,” the report went on.

We want a system that is quick, easy and beneficial for healthcare professionals to use and ultimately improves patient experience

Beverley Bryant, NHS England

“Our expectation is that the team will want to continue with its planned release in November, in which case the team will need to develop a fully resourced plan for further work beyond November.”

Choose and Book is currently run by Atos Healthcare in a contract that is due to expire in December 2014.

“With the NHS e-Referrals Service, we want to build on the successes of Choose and Book and use the lessons learnt. This isn’t about re-inventing the wheel, it is about taking the next step,” said Beverley Bryant, director of strategic systems and technology for NHS England, in May 2014.

“We want a system that is quick, easy and beneficial for healthcare professionals to use and ultimately improves patient experience by providing flexibility and choice around the services we offer wherever the patient is,” said Bryant.


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