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Sunday 21 July 2019
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Switch to NHS e-Referral service to save GP practice time, says NHS Digital

NHS Digital pushes for switching off paper referrals ahead of October deadline

E-referrals can save GPs’ time and NHS money, NHS Digital has said today (26 March).

Practices can reduce GPs’ workload by making use of the NHS e-Referral (e-RS), which allows family doctors to electronically refer patients and help them book an appointment when it is most convenient for them.

The e-RS allows patients to book or alter appointments online thought their phone or tablet, which saves GP practice time and reduce NHS’ spending on phone bills, NHS Digital said.

Switching to e-RS is expected to halve the rate of patients missing appointments, from 10% to 5% and could save the NHS at least £50m, said NHS Digital.

Implementing e-RS

As stated in the new GP contract, which will take effect from 1 April 2018, a further investment of £10m has been allocated to support full implementation of e-RS at every GP practice by October 2018.

NHS Digital launched the referral scheme one year ago, but it is making it mandatory for all first outpatients referrals to be made electronically via the e-RS from 1 October 2018, as stated in the Standard Contract for 2018/19.

At the moment, 19 trusts have already achieved paper switch-off, and NHS Digital said more will implement e-RS before the end of March.

e-RS prevents letters from going missing

National medical director of the e-RS programme at NHS Digital Dr Stephen Miller 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.’

Benefits to GPs

GP at Carmel Medical Practice in Darlington Dr Chris Markwick said: ‘e-RS provides a quick and easy way to book appointments online for GPs, their staff and patients.

‘e-RS gives you the assurance of knowing when the patient’s appointment is going to be, which, if there is a long wait, allows you to plan any follow-up you might need before they are seen.’

He recommended that the whole practice team should be involved after decision to move to full use of eRS are made and that practices look at possible obstacles to switching off paper referrals.