All of England’s acute hospital trusts and most of its GP practices have now begun to use the NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS), NHS Digital has announced.
It said that 150 trusts and 7,110 practices have made the move to sending and receiving all first outpatient appointments through the digital system in advance of the 1 October deadline.
It claimed significant benefits from the transition, saying that trusts using e-RS full-time have reported that patients on average receive appointments eight days faster and the number of patients that fail to attend appointments has dropped by up to half.
The change has also helped to vastly reduce the amount of paper used in the referral process and provided patients with a greater choice of when and where their appointment will take place.
Problems and boost
e-RS was launched amid technical problems in June 2015, replacing the previous Choose and Book service, and its take-up was given a major boost in March when NHS England said that from 1 October the new contract for acute care would require use of the service to ensure payments.
Dr Stephen Miller, national medical director of the e-RS programme within NHS Digital, said: “Universal use of the NHS e-Referral Service will have a big impact on improving the referral process for both doctors and patients, including enhancing communication between clinicians.
"This will result in fewer missed appointments, greater choice for patients and also a reduced number of unnecessary referrals, thanks to the advice and guidance function that allows GPs and consultants to discuss a patient’s course of treatment before a referral is considered.”
Image from Wales Audit Office