Health July 13, 2018
NHS still relies on outdated fax machines for communication

By Daniel Male - Accountable Care Journal

Hospitals are still using 9,000 fax machines, according to a survey that demonstrates how the NHS struggles to embrace modern technology. Senior doctors say it is 'ludicrous’ that the NHS talks about robot surgery and diagnosis by artificial intelligence while relying on communication technology from the 1980s. They are urging hospitals to move into the 21st century and use modern technology to book appointments, make referrals, and share patient records.

The survey by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) asked hospital trusts under freedom of information legislation how many fax machines they had. The 85 trusts which replied admitted that they had 8,946 fax machines between them. Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust has the most with 603 but Barts Health, England’s largest trust, has 369 faxes showing that the problem is not confined to the northeast of the UK. Ten trusts said they did not own any fax machines but four in 10 reported more than 100 in use.

A report last year by technology experts DeepMind Health revealed that the NHS is the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines. The former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said in 2013 that the NHS should go paperless by 2018 to “save billions” and improve services. However, doctors say that using fax machines presents real risks to patient safety. It often means medical records not keeping up with patients which potentially puts lives at risk.

Richard Kerr, the chairman of the RCS commission into the future of surgery, says: “The advances we are beginning to see in the use of artificial intelligence and imaging for healthcare, as well as robot-assisted surgery promise exciting benefits. Yet alongside these innovations, NHS hospitals remain stubbornly attached to using archaic fax machines for a significant proportion of their communications. This is ludicrous. ”

Philippa Hentsch, of NHS Providers, comments: “For too long NHS capital spending on facilities and technology has been pared back to keep services going. We see the results. Fax machines belong to the past. ”

Separate figures showed last year that NHS hospitals were still using an estimated 130,000 pagers—93 per cent of those still working in Britain. The devices are used mostly to summon doctors; small hospitals used one pager for every 3.6 staff members.