Insights

Peter O'Hara: 4 minute read

Time to remove the fax machines and get in line with the new Digital Revolution

This is the call by NHS England and Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock.

To most of you reading this article, Fax Machines are a thing of the past that have been slowly phased out but for the NHS they are essential*.

This has now been deemed unacceptable, with the digital revolution overthrowing the ancient beasts that are Fax Machines.

By the end of 2020 Fax Machines will have no place in the NHS. For some this is too late but for most it is the shared feeling of being ‘better late than never’. We welcome this positive move forward and wholeheartedly encourage the NHS to continue forward with these plans. Fax machines belong in the past.

Fax machines are not efficient

This statement will be obvious for 99% of the audience that are reading this article, which throws up the big question, why are the NHS still using fax machines?

Criticism can easily be thrown towards the NHS for not keeping pace with the digital revolution that was happening right outside the door but is this fair? We don’t believe that it is as the NHS has seen unparalleled increases in service demand over the last ten years. They have seen debts mounting and waiting times surging. Throughout all of this, the service has needed to prioritise those who need care, which is the mission statement of the NHS.

The founding principles of the NHS from inception have been:

  1. That is meets the needs of everyone
  2. That it will be free at the point of delivery
  3. That it will be based on clinical need, not the ability to pay

Yes, Fax Machines are not efficient and yes they have no idealistic place in the 21st century NHS, but care must come first. With funding short and ques of patients mounting, we believe that it is unfair to criticise the NHS here. The failure comes from the government not recognising this sooner. The health service has done the best job possible with the funding available and they have understandably prioritised patient treatment over technology. Short term needs have been the most pressing.

The NHS Long Term Plan

Plans for the future of the NHS and how it is funded have been long overdue.

At the start of January, the long wait was finally over and the ten year plan was revealed. A whole chapter of which was dedicated to making digital health mainstream, which was a major step forward in terms of modernising the NHS. Leaders recognised that technology had become a burden, noting that it had got to the point where it had become unreliable in terms of crisis. The tipping point had been reached.

Leaders in NHS England vowed in the report that staff would have the ‘tools they need to efficiently deliver safe and efficient patient care’. This can only be seen as positive for the long-term future of the NHS as patient numbers will continue to climb. With population growth and more complex care needs emerging, coupled with an ageing population, efficiency requirements for the NHS are now essential. Technology can provide a release valve for the backlog of care that is required to help release staff from ‘administration delays’.

Fax machines are not efficient. Whilst the innocent fax machine does not seem the type to cost millions each year, it is an efficiency drain. With thousands of patients being seen every day across the vast network that is the NHS, minute delays can soon add up to costly delays. You can talk about costs in terms of money but the real cost for the NHS is life. Patients are the heart of the NHS and what keeps staff turning up to work every day, the desire to help those in need. To see them as quickly as possible and assist them to live life to the full, but with delays occurring, the NHS needs a helping hand.

More than words?

Eliminating the purchase of fax machines is a positive step forward. However to fully get rid of an old way of working you need to an appropriate alternative solution, that is already in place and being utilised.

We are delighted to see these positive words from Matt Hancock. It is encouraging to see him speak about an the IT market for the health sector, with support from open framework software systems. This will ensure the right systems are in place to deliver the best care for Citizens. Head of NHS Digital, Sarah Wilkinson spoke about the 10 year plans after release and said, “The plan offers a hugely exciting vision for the future of the NHS.” We couldn’t agree more.

Will Matt Hancock’s positive words turn into action and actually deliver real change? The investments we have made in ECLIPSE enable us to be excited about the future of Health and Social Care. 

ECLIPSE Software and Services

We have created ECLIPSE to work across social care, health, education and with charitable and care organisations. It works alongside these organisations to create efficiencies.

For the NHS it will be a steadfast friend in the battle against delays. It will tick off the desire spoken about by NHS bosses to, “Capture all health and care information digitally at the point of care.” It will enable this through use of a single platform that can be accessed by clinicians across the entirety of the NHS. Why is this important? By having one platform that is accessed across the board, you are able to:

  • Share information with colleagues quickly and easily, you do not need to fax records
  • You have all the information about the patient in front of you, with other mainline services being able to add to the story
    • You are able to control this access through role-based security
  • You can access the information from anywhere at any time to ensure continuous care
  • Costs are reduced as you do not need to connect other services
    • These cost savings can then be channelled back into the organisation

The move towards digital first consultation can also be assisted via ECLIPSE. By 2023-24 the ten year NHS plan mandates that every patient in England should have access to digital first primary care. By using ECLIPSE the NHS can store recordings of these digital consultations and be a firm friend to the NHS app. These consultations will help to provide the full picture of the individual and following these, follow-ups can be booked with relevant clinicians and automated workflows generated.

Digital means efficiency and ECLIPSE is the full package to help the NHS reach the heights of excellence that are required. We all know that the NHS is full of some of the hardest working staff in the country. They work long hours to care for those in need and now is time for technology to help. Head of NHS Digital, Sarah Wilkinson spoke about the plans after release and said, “The plan offers a hugely exciting vision for the future of the NHS.” We couldn’t agree more.

*Figures published at the end of 2018 pointed to the NHS still using more than 8,000 Fax Machines.