First trusts to adopt digital hospital-appointment booking unveiled as deadline looms to ditch paper system
Sherwood Forest and County Durham and Darlington trusts lead the way
Using the e-Referral service, GPs can make hospital appointments on behalf of patients, or issue a reference number to allow them to do it themselves Credit: PA
Two NHS Foundation Trusts have become the first in England to implement a fully digital process for booking hospital appointments for citizens.
GP practices and patients in the Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust are now processing all referrals for hospital appointments via the NHS e-Referral Service. NHS Digital claims that the online system better allows patients to be seen at a time and location that suits them, and obtain more information about waiting times and service availability.
With 60,000 referrals made by the health service across England every day, using a web-based referral platform will not only vastly reduce the GPs’ paperwork, but will save “millions of pounds for the NHS”, according to NHS Digital. Managing appointments online is also safer than relying on physical letters, which can be lost, the organisation added.
The e-Referrals site was launched in April. Once a GP has decided to refer a patient, the appointment can be booked online by the doctor or, if the patient prefers, they can be issued with a unique reference number, which they can then use to subsequently make the appointment themselves.
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Paper booking methods are being phased out and, from the start of next month, healthcare providers will not be paid for any services offered during appointments made using anything other than the e-Referrals service. Although “a telephone system will remain in place for those patients who are unable to use the internet”, NHS Digital said.
Morgan Thanigasalam, clinical lead for ICT at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: "We are extremely proud to be the first trust to achieve 100% GP e-referrals. It is just one example of how we are looking at taking a digital ethos forward as a trust, and making our systems more efficient. We are committed to having patients and staff supported by IT to get the very best service, rather than the other way around."
Sarah Perkins, director of performance at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, added: "We're delighted to be pioneers in the introduction of e-referrals which have many benefits for our patients.”
The online system aims to make it easier to alter or cancel appointments, and NHS Digital claimed that, in areas where it has been adopted, it has already prompted a reduction in the rate of patients missing appointments from 10% to 5%.
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