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10.12.18

‘Archaic’ and ‘absurd’ fax machines banned across the NHS

The NHS has been banned from buying fax machines by the health secretary who has ordered a complete phase-out of the outdated machines by April 2020.

Taking effect from January 2019, NHS trusts will instead be required to invest in new technology to replace any outdated systems and become “fax-free,” using £200m of government funding set aside for modernising the NHS earlier this year.

An FOI request by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) in July revealed that more than 8,000 fax machines are still being used in England by the NHS, which the chair called “absurd.”

Matt Hancock commented on the fax ban: “Because I love the NHS, I want to bring it 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.

“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.”

The Department of Health and Social Care says that secure emails should be used, which will improve patient safety and cybersecurity.

Part of Hancock’s technology vision, digital services and IT systems will soon have to meet a clear set of standards to ensure they can talk to each other across NHS organisations; any system that does not meet these standards will be phased out.

Richard Kerr, chair of the RCS commission on the future of surgery, said: “Most other organisations scrapped fax machines in the early 2000s and it is high time the NHS caught up. The RCS supports the ban on fax machines that will come into place in March 2020.”

He said that since the data on NHS fax machines were published, a number of trusts have pledged to ‘axe the fax’ which proves it is possible to modernise the NHS with the right will and support.

Kerr added: “Advances in artificial intelligence, genomics and imaging for healthcare promise exciting benefits for patients. 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.”

Last week, the RCS published an independent commission, led by Kerr, into the future of surgery which found that a new wave of technology will see massive improvements in the treatment of millions of patients.

Image credit - piyaphun

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