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NHS e-Referral Service set for June launch

17/04/15

New service is claimed to provide improvements on the under-used Choose and Book facility

The NHS e-Referral Service for England is scheduled to go live on 15 June, according to the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSIC).

NHS digital logoIt has announced the 'go live' on its website, with claims the new service will provide improvements over the Choose and Book service it is replacing.

Electronic referrals will provide essentially the same service, enabling GPs to directly book patient appointments for secondary care through a centralised computer system. But it is aimed at providing a much heavier usage, following disappointment at the overall take-up of Choose and Book.

The HSIC has provided indications of new functions, saying on its website that the e-Referral Service has been designed using feedback from different groups on where they felt the earlier service fell short. It highlights that:

  • GPs wanted more clinical referral templates, decisions aids, advice and guidance functions, the ability to book patients in diagnostic services, outcome and discharge information, and integration with clinical systems.
  • Consultants wanted the system to share information better and integration with hospital clinical systems, as well as linking appointments within a pathway and referrals to other clinics, and giving them the ability to add electronic notes and instructions.
  • Commissioners asked for better reporting and information features to support commissioning decisions, and support for more consistent referral management.
  • Patients wanted a service to book all appointments in their care pathway, including follow-ups and self-referrals.

The HSCIC says the e-Referrals Service will be functionally equivalent to Choose and Book, so that users will not need any extensive training, and that all past and current referrals on the existing service have been migrated and will be available from the first day.

"The transition should not cause any disruption to patient care or working practices and will enable users to continue to utilise the new service to support patients," it says, adding that it will invite all referrer and provider organisations to a webinar for further information on the transition.

Usage judgement

The new service will ultimately be judged on whether it is used much more widely than Choose and Book. The former was launched in 2004 as part of the NHS National Programme for IT, and while it has been used for more than 40 million referrals from GP to first outpatient appointments, it has accounted for less than half of the total in England and many organisations continue to rely on paper referrals.

There have been reports of GPs being frustrated by some hospitals refusing to confirm patient appointments unless they received a referral letter within a few days of the e-booking.

The move provides a milestone towards the fulfilment of the government's ambition of a paperless NHS by 2018, but it has already suffered one setback when the initial launch was postponed last year after it failed an assessment by the Government Digital Service.

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