First two trusts meet milestone of all electronic NHS referrals

Two hospital trusts and their referring GP practices have become the first in the country to adopt a digital process for booking patient hospital appointments.

By making appointments electronically, doctors and patients know in advance which services are available and about waiting times. This allows patients to decide on an appointment at a date and time that suits them and at the hospital of their choice.

Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust are now processing all of their hospital referral appointments electronically via the NHS e-Referral Service.

With around 60,000 referrals made across the NHS every day, electronic bookings not only relieve the burden on GPs by reducing their paperwork, but it is also much cheaper to run – saving millions of pounds for the NHS. It also removes the risk of losing letters and allows doctors to more easily track their patients’ referrals if they have any questions.

Morgan Thanigasalam, clinical lead for ICT at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We are extremely proud to be the first trust to achieve 100% GP e-referrals. It is just one example of how we are looking at taking a digital ethos forward as a Trust, and making our systems more efficient.  We are committed to having patients and staff supported by IT to get the very best service, rather than the other way round.”

A new NHS e-Referrals website was launched by NHS Digital in April, which allows patients to use their mobile phone or tablet to book an appointment date, time and place that is most suitable for them.

Patients are also able to change or cancel their appointments through the system – with analysis showing that use of electronic referrals has halved the rate of patients missing appointments from 10% to 5%.

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.”

The old paper method is now being phased out across all trusts and from 1 October 2018, providers will no longer be paid for activity which results from referrals made other than through the NHS e-Referral Service.

A telephone system will remain in place for those patients who are unable to use the internet.