NHS banned from buying fax machines by government

Health secretary wants NHS to be "fax free" by March 2020

10 Dec 2018
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The NHS is the world's biggest buyer of fax machines. No, I kid you not, this is true. However, a new government initiative aims to turn that around and so, from January 2019, the NHS is banned from buying any more fax machines in a bid to phase them out entirely by 31 March 2020.

It's not surprising that the NHS still uses fax machines. A 2016 survey of UK workers showed that 30% still see fax machines as an essential workplace tool. A freedom of information request in July revealed that the NHS still used 9,000 fax machines across the country.

At the time, the NHS promised to remove 95% of these machines by the end of 2018. However, that's not good enough for health secretary Matt Hancock who's demanded the NHS be "fax free" by March 2020.

"Because I love the NHS," he said. "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."

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Hancock had previously stated his intention to modernise the NHS by injecting it with a much-needed £500 million "digital transformation" budget.

Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), agreed and said the number of fax machines still in use was "absurd". The service is already exploring advances in cutting-edge digital technology for healthcare, but it's now being forced to do the same with its communications.

"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," he 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."

Since the RCS published data on NHS fax machines, Kerr said it had seen a number of trusts pledge to 'axe the fax' and have shown it's possible to modernise NHS communications.

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Axe the fax was a campaign launched in September by Leeds Teaching Hospital (LTHT) that invited other trusts to across the country to set up targets to ditch fax machines. The trust aimed to remove 95% as opposed to 100% because it feared a handful of people would still be reliant on legacy technology.

Richard Corbridge, chief digital and information officer at LTHT said at the time: "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."

The government is sending out a clear message regarding legacy technology by warning that all digital services and IT systems will have to meet a clear set of open standards. They must be secure and continuously upgraded and any system that does not meet these standards will be "phased out". The government added that it will look to end contracts with providers who do not understand these principles for the health and care sector.

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