Primary Care News, Secondary Care

NHS Digital launches ‘just referrals’ campaign set to save £50m

NHS Digital has launched the ‘Just e-Referrals’ campaign to help support trusts as they prepare to hit the target of digital referrals and reduce eight million outpatient appointments that patients didn’t attend (2016/17).

All first outpatients’ referrals will have to be made electronically from later this year in a move that NHS Digital say is set to save the NHS at least £50 million.

Patients will be able to choose an appointment at a time and date that suits them, which is expected to halve the rate of patients missing appointments from 10 per cent to five per cent, when GPs refer patients using the NHS e-Referral service (e-RS) from 1 October 2018. The switch to electronic only referrals will mean doctors and patients will be able to see in advance which services are available and how quickly the patient can be seen.

Patients can book or alter appointments online at using a mobile phone or tablet which will save the GP practice time and cuts the NHS’s phone bill.

Currently 19 trusts have already achieved paper switch-off, with more in line to do so before the end of March.

Dr Stephen Miller, National Medical Director of the e-RS programme within NHS Digital, said: “The NHS e-Referral Service helps to relieve the burden on GPs by cutting down on their paperwork and reducing the number of patients who go back to them to find out what is happening with their hospital appointment.

“The system also reduces the risk of letters going missing and allows doctors to more easily track their patients’ referrals.”

Alex Bickerton, a consultant at Yeovil Hospital, one of the trusts that has made the switch to electronic referrals, said: “I think e-RS is undoubtedly the way forward. It is a slick way at looking at referrals and from my point-of-view it means I am not reliant on being in my office and my secretary handing me paper referrals and I can look at referrals and vet referrals at any time.

“For example, if I have a patient that doesn’t turn up and I am in clinic, I can look at those referrals and I have got 10 minutes spare I can do some of that work, so the work gets done quicker and more efficiently as well.”