Hospitals now taking all appointment bookings through digital service, with target for use across England by October 2018
Two hospital trusts and their referring GP practices have become the first in the country to process all of their appointment bookings through the NHS e-Referral Service.
NHS Digital said that Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust have become the first to reach the milestone for the website launched in April.
It is a significant step in phasing out the paper method across all hospital trusts in England. From 1 October 2018 they will only be paid for activity that was booked through the service, although there will be exceptions in using telephone bookings for people unable to use the internet.
Sarah Perkins, director of performance at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We're delighted to be pioneers in the introduction of e-referrals which have many benefits for our patients.
“Following their appointment with a GP at which the need for a referral to see a consultant is agreed, patients can choose to take a unique booking reference number home and make the appointment themselves. This enables them to see the availability and make an appointment for the date and time of their choosing, receiving instant confirmation.
“When patients prefer not to do this themselves, GP practices can make the booking for them."
NHS Digital said about 60,000 referrals are made across the health service every day, and that the system should relieve the burden on GPs and provide savings.
It provides doctors and patients with information on available services and waiting times, and allows patients to decide on the date and time of an appointment. They can also change or cancel their appointments through the system.
The full e-Referral Service was launched in June 2015, replacing the Choose and Book system, but was reportedly affected by early problems with slow performance and occasional shutdowns.
In March of last year NHS England made £55 million available to increase take-up through payments to the Quality Premium, a scheme designed to reward clinical commissioning groups for improvements in quality of services.
Image by Daniel Sone, public domain via Wikimedia Commons