NHS England has set aside £55 million to “reward” hospitals and GPs that make the switch to electronic referrals by 2018.
It said that around 50% of patients are referred for hospital appointments electronically. It is intended this will increase to 60% by September 2016, 80% by 2017 and 100% by 2018.
It will consult on a proposal that by 2018 NHS commissioners and providers will no longer be paid for referrals made by paper.
The funding for the scheme comes through the 2016-7 Quality Premium, a scheme designed to reward CCGs for improvements in quality of services.
Completing referrals electronically allows GPs to book in patients’ hospital appointments right away and offer them a choice of date. Under these plans, patients will leave their GP practice with a scheduled appointment in the diary. NHS England said that this would end “days of anxious waits for the post to arrive and frustrating calls to chase hospital letters”.
NHS England pointed to research undertaken by the National Audit Office (NAO) that revealed that patients are 50% less likely to miss their hospital appointment if they have chosen the date themselves. It said that reducing missed appointments frees up clinical time to be spent with other patients and leads to significant financial savings for hospital trusts. The NAO suggested the NHS could save £51 million a year if every referral was made online.
Director of Digital Technology Beverley Bryant said: “For a long time our first class healthcare system has been let down by outmoded systems, where patients are referred to hospital by second class post.
“We have a duty of care that extends beyond providing effective treatments. We must also provide an effective patient experience that ensures patients feel reassured at a time when they are most vulnerable.”