The NHS will not be allowed to buy any more fax machines from January next year, with a complete phase out of the ageing technology expected by April 2020.
NHS organisations will be monitored on a quarterly basis until they declare themselves 'fax free', the Department for Health and Social Care said. The NHS still has more than 8,000 fax machines in use.
From April, NHS organisations will be required to use modern methods, such as secure email, to improve patient safety and cyber security, the department said. Health secretary Matt Hancock has made modernising the technology used by the NHS a key part of his strategy, under which digital services and IT systems will soon have to meet a clear set of open standards to ensure interoperability and the ability to be upgraded. Any system that does not meet these standards will be phased out, the department said.
Hancock said: "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."
Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery, said: "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."
The new Health Secretary is keen to improve the use of technology across the NHS; much of the technology used across the health service is ageing and communications between hospitals, GPs and social care is rarely smooth. The health service has often been cautious about investing in new technology for two reasons. First because big IT projects in the health sector have often ended badly; and secondly doctors would rather spend their limited funds on patient care.
Telling the NHS to get rid of old technology that is insecure and inefficient is a good start, but additional funding is going to be needed to make much real difference. And there's little sign of that arriving. According to one think tank, funding increases of four percent a year are required to improve NHS services over the medium term, with five percent needed in the short run, and recently the government offered the NHS a 70th 'birthday present' of just 3.4 percent.
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