More than 50 per cent of acute hospital trusts in England have switched off paper referrals and are now processing GP referrals for outpatient appointments digitally.
The traditional paper method is currently being phased out across all trusts and from 1 October 2018, providers will no longer be paid for activity which results from referrals that were not made through the NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS).
79 trusts have now fully moved across to e-RS – with a further 10 expected to switch off paper referrals by the end of June.
The new GP contract, which came into effect in April 2018, includes an investment of £10m, which will help to support GP practices to implement e-RS in primary care.
NHS Digital’s Director of Implementation and the Digital Environment Eve Roodhouse said: “It is really encouraging that we have hit this major milestone and it’s an incredible achievement which is the result of a lot of hard work from all involved.
“e-RS puts the patient at the heart of the referral because it allows patients to book an appointment at a location, date and time that is convenient to them.
“Not only that, but the booking is immediate, speeding up the time it takes to be treated and reducing the number of appointments where the patient fails to attend by up to half.”
For professional users, e-RS improves the efficiency of the referral management process by reducing the time taken to create and manage referrals and facilitating improved communication between primary and secondary care. The quality of referrals improves, and the number of inappropriate referrals is reduced, ensuring patients are seen by the right person, in the right place, first time.
County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were the first trusts to start processing all of their hospital referral appointments electronically via e-RS.
In April, Greater Manchester was the first geographical region to be entirely running a digital process.