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All acute NHS trusts and nearly all GP practices have switched off paper referrals and are now using NHS England’s e-referral service (e-RS).
NHS England had set an October deadline, requiring all GP practices and acute trusts to stop using paper and implement e-RS.
However, all of the 150 acute trusts in England have completed the transition ahead of schedule and 7,110 of around 7,400 GP practices in England have also moved to e-RS so far.
Steve Firman, the senior responsible owner for the programme at NHS England, said e-RS “works safely and quickly”. He added that it’s a “fantastic achievement all 150 acute hospital trusts are now on board ahead of the 1 October deadline”.
“This is a result of months of hard work by trusts, their healthcare communities, CCGs and staff at NHS England and NHS Digital who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the system is ready in time,” he said.
The roll-out of e-referrals began in 2015, but uptake has not been as quick as expected. By March 2016, 50% of patients were referred for hospital appointments using the system, and as of December 2017, 62% of referrals were made using the system.
Earlier this year, the Infrastructure and Projects authority’s (IPA) annual report rated the project amber/red, meaning its success was in doubt. However, once the final GP practices get on board, the government will have reached its target.
NHS England has made e-RS compliance a requirement of the new GP contract. However, the contract said that NHS England will be “supportive” and won’t take contractual action should practices not achieve this – unless it’s a last resort.
NHS England said trusts that had already moved to using e-RS full time found that patients received appointments eight times faster than when referrals were made on paper, and that did-not-attend rates had significantly reduced.
NHS Digital’s national medical director of e-RS, Stephen Miller, said the use of the service will have a “big impact on improving the referral process for both doctors and patients, including enhancing communication between clinicians”.
“This will result in fewer missed appointments, greater choice for patients and a reduced number of unnecessary referrals, thanks to the advice and guidance function that allows GPs and consultants to discuss a patient’s course of treatment before a referral is considered,” he said.
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