One of the most devastating legacies of New Labor – and there were many – was its failed work at the NHS that left our health service at £ 10 billion and reliance on obsolete technologies.
Even today, more than 8,000 fax machines are still being used by the NHS in the UK, the world's largest fax user.
When Matt Hancock took over the Health Minister in July, I called him through the viewer to make the bold decision to send NHS fax machines to their legal home – a 20th century.
Thus, Saturday's announcement that the fire has been lit under the elderly Fax machines of Work is welcome news. Hancock has confirmed that next year it is forbidden for the NHS to buy new fax machines – and existing faxes should be abolished altogether by April 2020.
The rise of faxes is good news. This means that my vision for a NHS paperless by 2028 is a step closer, allowing our health service to improve patient care, communicate more easily and offer online appointment bookings, saving money in back office which can be redirected to front-line services.
As I pointed out in the Center for Political Studies report published earlier this year, the NHS estimates that GBP 200 million is spent on printing alone for the 120 million annual outpatient appointment, which does not include postage-related costs. Nor does it take account of treatment, diagnosis, primary care and mental health – or patients receiving multiple letters.
Impressively, the estimated annual cost to the NHS for paper storage is between £ 500,000 and £ 1 million per Trust – the money that could be spent instead of more doctors and nurses. There are about 200 NHS Trust, which means that the NHS spends an additional £ 200 million a year just for paper storage.
Shifting the NHS culture to the digital one and sending fax and paper to history is crucial and can be the catalyst for a wider transformation that would allow patients to access their medical records through a new NHS application, improving diagnostics, and medical precision and genomics embraced. With the end of the fax machine now at the forefront, Hancock actually provides the basis for further reforms in the NHS technology that I asked in my report. The Health Secretary should now turn his attention to some of the other anachronistic dreams from the failed upgrades of the NHS technology.
The firing line must then be the pager, the use of which is restricted almost exclusively to the NHS hospitals. In fact, surveys show that there are still more than 100,000 in use in hospitals – NHS Trusts accounts for over 10% of all pagers in circulation worldwide. All this awaits to be thrown over the fragment.
Today, in hospitals across the country, pagers will click to call doctors in emergencies for which they have no more information or a wider context to help them prioritize their response. Physicians are left with resolute decisions about what emergency they should watch when they hear multiple bits, sometimes leaving patients in critical condition in the hands of their inferior colleagues while being hurled on a fixed telephone – or in a remote ward – and the scale of the new emergency. Unconscious, obsolete, insecure, and unreliable, the NHS Pager should be removed.
Better systems are available. For example, Hancock's West Suffolk local hospital is leading the Medic Bleep program, an application that enables hospital and community staff to communicate in real time, share accurately and secure vital information and patient updates. I saw the application in action when I visited the hospital this month.
In addition, a new, safe WhatsApp messaging service for doctors and nurses, which I suggested in my report, would mean that clinicians should not resort to communication methods that compromise patient confidentiality.
Removing the NHS Paging Systems will also complement another basic promise made earlier this year: that all NHS computers will be upgraded to Windows 10 by 2020. The Health Secretary has put interoperability at the heart of its vision of technology NHS and ensuring that there is modern technology, date and single software will ensure better compatibility between hospital systems.
With more than $ 20 billion in additional funding a year – and the political will to advance the modernization agenda – today's announcement of fax machines is welcome on its own and also a catalyst for further NHS reforms. This should include erasing the pager before proceeding to build a fully digital NHS system with applications, data, and modern devices. The generation of smartphone patients deserves nothing less.