NHS trusts will instead be required to invest in new technology to replace outdated systems.
The ban on buying fax machines takes effect from January 2019. They will be phased out by 31 March 2020. NHS organisations will be monitored on a quarterly basis until they declare themselves ‘fax free’.
A freedom of information request revealed in July that more than 8,000 fax machines are still being used by the NHS in England
From April, NHS organisations will be required to use modern communication methods, such as secure email, to improve patient safety and cyber security.
It is part of the Health and Social Care Secretary’s tech vision, to modernise the health service and make it easier for NHS organisations to introduce innovative technologies.
Digital services and IT systems will soon have to meet a clear set of open standards to ensure they can talk to each other across organisational boundaries and can be continuously upgraded.
Any system that does not meet these standards will be phased out and the government will look to end contracts with providers who do not understand these principles for the health and care sector.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:
Because I love the NHS, I want to bring it into the 21st century and use the very best technology available. We’ve got to get the basics right, like having computers that work and getting rid of the archaic fax machines still used across the NHS when everywhere else got rid of them years ago.
I am instructing the NHS to stop buying fax machines and I’m setting a deadline for getting rid of them altogether. Email is much more secure and miles more effective than fax machines. The NHS can be the best in the world – and we can start with getting rid of fax machines.
Richard Kerr, Chair of the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery, said:
Earlier this year, work undertaken for the RCS’s Commission on the Future of Surgery revealed that NHS hospital trusts own over 8,000 fax machines. This is absurd.
Advances in artificial intelligence, genomics and imaging for healthcare promise exciting benefits for patients. As these digital technologies begin to play a bigger part in how we deliver healthcare it is crucial that we invest in better ways of communicating the vast amount of patient information that is going to be generated.
Most other organisations scrapped fax machines in the early 2000s and it is high time the NHS caught up. The RCS supports the ban on fax machines that will come into place in March 2020.
Since we published our data on NHS fax machines, we’ve seen a number of trusts pledge to ‘axe the fax’. They have proved that, with the right will and support, it is possible to modernise NHS communications.