Matt Hancock has banned the NHS from buying fax machines as part of his digital revolution of the health service.
The health secretary’s “axe the fax” campaign will start next month with the aim of phasing the machines out completely by 31 March 2020.
“We don’t underestimate the enormity of the challenge to remove all our machines in such a short time frame”
NHS organisations will be monitored on a quarterly basis until they declare themselves ‘fax free’.
They will be expected to introduce modern communication methods in their place.
Leaders acknowledged the “enormity of the challenge” for staff but added that the NHS could not continue “living in the dark ages”.
This summer the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery revealed that more than 8,000 fax machines were still being used by the NHS in England.
Since taking over the job as health secretary, Mr Hancock has embarked on a campaign to modernise the NHS and make it easier for trusts to introduce innovative technologies.
He has announced that digital services and IT systems used in the NHS will soon have to meet a set of standards to ensure they can talk to each other across organisational boundaries and can be continuously upgraded.
Source: Department of Health and Social Care
Any system that does not meet these standards will be phased out and the government will look to end contracts with providers who do not understand these principles for the health and care sector.
Richard Corbridge, chief digital and information officer at Leeds Teaching Hospital who is involved in the project, said: “Turning off the fax is a step in the delivery of integrated care and a leap forward in putting healthcare information in the right hands every time it is needed.
“Most other organisations scrapped fax machines in the early 2000s and it is high time the NHS caught up”
“We don’t underestimate the enormity of the challenge to remove all our machines in such a short time frame, but we simply cannot afford to continue living in the dark ages,” he added.
Mr Corbridge said the axe the fax campaign aimed to “empower staff rather than disarm them”.
Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery, branded the fact the NHS still owned more than 8,000 fax machines “absurd”.
He added: “Most other organisations scrapped fax machines in the early 2000s and it is high time the NHS caught up.”
The announcement comes as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) today publishes new standards (see PDF attached below) setting out what evidence is needed to introduce new technologies such as apps and wearable devices into the NHS.
Alexia Tonnel, NICE evidence resources director, said: “The new standards will make it easier for innovators and service commissioners to understand what a good level of evidence for new digital products looks like.
“This will enhance understanding between innovators and healthcare commissioners; supporting the way in which promising, value driven technologies are introduced into the NHS for the benefit of clinicians and patients,” she said.