NHS England provides cash to boost e-referrals

Health service places £55 million in pot in effort to wean CCGs and hospitals away from paper referrals

NHS England has announced a financial boost for the cause of moving to electronic referrals, with the provision of £55 million over the next two years to encourage clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and hospitals to get behind the transition.

Stethoscope_and_Laptop_ComputerIt said the aim is to increase the proportion of patients referred to hospitals electronically from the current 50% to 60% by September of this year, 80% by 2017 and 100% by 2018.

It is also floating a proposal, to go out to consultation, that by 2018 NHS commissioners and providers will no longer be paid for referrals made by paper.

The funds for CCGs will be released partly through the 2016-17 Quality Premium, which is designed to rewards the groups improvements in their services.

Hospitals will be encouraged to use electronic referrals over 2017-18 by payments made through the Commissioning for Quality and Innovation programme.

A spokesperson for NHS England said it will not specify exactly how the many should be spent by providers.

Beverly Bryant, director of digital technology at NHS England, 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.”

Take-up question

The move raises questions about the take-up of the NHS e-Referrals Service, which was launched in June of last year to replace the under-used Choose and Book.

A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), which runs NHS e-Referrals, said its usage has remained steady at 50% since its launch, and that: “As the incentives and levers published by NHS England are rolled out we are expecting to see utilisation grow in line with our forecast throughout this year.”

Utilisation reports from the HSCIC show there have been substantial regional variations. One report from last August showed a figure of 71% for the North Midlands but just 35% for London.

There is evidence that, in addition to making things more convenient for patients, e-referrals can produce internal benefits for the NHS. It cited research from the National Audit Office that patients are 50% less likely to miss hospital appointments if they chose the date themselves, and that if every referral was made online it could save the health service £51 million a year.

Image by Daniel Sone (photographer), public domain via Wikimedia Commons