NHS England to require e-referrals for acute care

New contract will make e-RS mandatory for consultant led outpatient appointments with aim of banishing paper from the process

NHS England has taken steps to drive all referrals for acute care towards its e-Referrral Service (e-RS), with a new standard contract that will make it a requirement for payments from 1 October this year.

Stephoscope on darkened laptop keyboardEve Roodhouse, interim executive director of NHS Digital, said it is aimed at switching off paper referrals from general practice into acute trusts, and will be a condition of payment for all consultant led outpatient appointments.

She added that the organisation has also created an implementation pack and communications toolkit to support trusts in making the change, and been working at making e-RS easier to use.

The latter includes improving the ‘advice and guidance’ function, which provides GPs with access to consultant advice before referring patients, and creating a new online patient booking service named Manage Your Referral.

Limited take-up

The e-RS was launched in June 2015 to replace the Choose & Book service, which had been developed under the NHS National Programme for IT to enable GPs to make appointments for their patients’ secondary care. But the utilisation of both has hovered around 52%, which has prompted NHS England to make e-RS a condition of payment.

Roodhouse said the service is now handling about 50,000 referrals per day, and that 16 trusts have put an end to paper referrals while another 16 plan to follow.

The move also amounts to a significant step in achieving a paperless NHS. This was one of the ambitions set out by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt soon after he took on the role in 2013, with an initial target date of this year – although that was dropped in February of last year with the minister blaming “weak hospital IT systems”.

Image from Wales Audit Office