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NHS must replace paper with email says health secretary

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Health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, has called for the NHS to stop relying on pens and paper, as part of a drive to encourage healthcare staff to use email to send their patients information.

Speaking today at an NHS England conference, Mr Hancock said the health service needed to use modern and secure forms of communication as part of an ambition for healthcare staff to email patients directly with appointment information to reduce delays, boost cyber security and cut wastage.

“Having to deal with outdated technology is hugely frustrating for staff and patients alike”

Matt Hancock

The move comes as part of his tech vision for helping organisations to introduce innovative technologies for the benefit of staff and patients.

The need for echnology advances were highlighted in the new long-term plan for the health service in England at the start of this year.

Using email is as secure and cheaper than communication through paper and fax machines, said the health secretary at the Empowering people in a digital world’ 2019 conference.

Department of Health and Social Care

Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock

As part of the initiative to cut down paper usage, the Department of Health and Social Care said NHS organisations will be able to use any secure email provider – not just NHSMail – if it meets the required security settings.

It added that this would allow organisations to choose the best service for their needs and noted that email providers are encouraged to innovate.

Under Mr Hancock’s tech vision, digital services and IT systems will soon have to meet a clear set of open standards to ensure they can talk to each other across organisational boundaries and can be continuously upgraded.

According to the department, any system that does not meet the standards required will be phased out and, as a result, the government will look to end contracts with providers that do not understand these principles for the sector.

As previously reported by Nursing Times, Mr Hancock announced a fax machine ban in December last year which saw them removed from the NHS Supply Chain, meaning trusts can no longer buy them.

Mr Hancock said: “Having to deal with outdated technology is hugely frustrating for staff and patients alike – and in many cases downright dangerous.

“A letter lost in the post could be the difference between life and death,” he warned.

He reiterated the removal of “archaic” fax machines in hospitals and GP practices, and noted that the “mission now is to make it as easy as possible for GPs to communicate safely and securely with their patients and colleagues”.

“There is no reason why a doctor cannot email a patient confidentially, for example with their test results or prescription, rather than make them wait days for a letter or ask them to come into the surgery,” added Mr Hancock.

“The rest of the world runs on email – and the NHS should too,” he said.

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