NHS trusts will be banned from buying fax machines from the end of this month under new government plans to phase out the technology by April 2020.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced over the weekend that trusts will be monitored every three months until they have weaned themselves off faxes entirely.
The move comes after a Royal College of Surgeons revealed earlier this year that the NHS owns more than 8,000 fax machines. Some fear its dependence on the antiquated technology is forcing doctors and nurses to turn to consumer messaging services such as WhatsApp to send scans, putting sensitive patient data at risk.
Hancock, who is spearheading plans to make the NHS the world’s most advanced health service, said he wanted to bring hospitals “into the 21st century”. “Email is much more secure and miles more effective than fax machines,” he added. “The NHS can be the best in the world – and we can start with getting rid of fax machines.”
There is no extra money allocated to the announcement, but a government spokesperson told NS Tech it would be funded through existing tech budgets, such as the £500m digital fund revealed in July.
Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery, welcomed the news: “Most other organisations scrapped fax machines in the early 2000s and it is high time the NHS caught up.”
Richard Corbridge, chief digital and information officer at Leeds Teaching Hospital, said that “turning off the fax is a step in the delivery of integrated care. […] We don’t underestimate the enormity of the challenge to remove all our machines in such a short time frame, but we simply cannot afford to continue living in the dark ages.
“The Axe the Fax campaign aims to empower staff rather than disarm them and so far the feedback has been positive; staff are recognising that on the one hand we have hugely innovative technology being implemented in the Trust and on the other we have technology that hasn’t existed for decades in other industries.”