NHS trusts set to miss ‘axe the fax’ deadline

Freedom of Information findings reveal NHS trusts have axed only 42% of fax machines and are likely to miss Government's March target

The Government is calling for all public-sector organisations to stop using fax machines by March 2020

A new report looking into the number of fax machines still in use across NHS England has shown a concerning lack of progress among trusts working to meet Health Secretary, Matt Hancock’s, April 2020 deadline.

The report from Silver Buck, reveals that the trusts with the most fax machines, according to data collected by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) last year, have collectively axed just 42% of those machines over the past 12 months, with less than six months to go until the ‘axe the fax’ deadline.

The lack of progress among NHS trusts, with just six months to go until the government deadline, is indicative of just how challenging axing the fax is

The new findings come from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request and also found that trusts that have identified a solution for replacing their fax machines have, on average, removed 9.4% more than those that haven’t.

Commenting on the findings; Scott Wilson, director of J2 Global, provider of an eFax solution that enables users to send and receive faxes via email, said: “The lack of progress among NHS trusts, with just six months to go until the government deadline, is indicative of just how challenging axing the fax is.

“If trusts continue to remove fax machines at this rate, the majority of them won’t be fax-free by 31 March 2020.

“It’s also important to remember that replacing fax machines generally gets harder the further down the line you get.

“Trusts start with the easy wins – redundant fax machines and those with low levels of usage. But some fax machines are more important to the way a trust communicates, particularly with external organisations.

It’s important to remember that replacing fax machines generally gets harder the further down the line you get

“That’s why it’s so shocking to see that some NHS trusts haven’t even identified a solution for replacing their fax machines.

Those trusts need to realise that axing the fax is not simply a case of unplugging your fax on deadline day. It’s much more complicated than that.”

This latest FOI request follows that published by the Royal College of Surgeons in July 2018, which revealed that the NHS was the world’s-largest purchaser of fax machines, with over 8,000 in use across the health service in England.

Despite the government mandate, there are still thousands of fax machines being used within NHS trusts

The report provoked widespread public debate as to why the NHS was still using such outdated modes of communication, particularly those that are inefficient, costly, and risk comprising data security and compliance.

The new FOI request was issued to each of the 14 trusts that responded to Royal College of Surgeons FOI request declaring they had 200 or more fax machines. Three of the 14 failed to reply.

Trusts need to realise that axing the fax is not simply a case of unplugging your fax on deadline day. It’s much more complicated than that

But, among those that did; two trusts said they have more fax machines in use now than they did when the RCS FOI was issued: the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust has 251 fax machines, one more than reported in July 2018; whereas the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has 252, two more than previously reported.

Other trusts, while reducing their number of fax machines; demonstrated a lack of significant progress over the past year.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, for instance, reduced its number of fax machines by less than 16%, from 237 to 200.

Some trusts, however, have shown progress.

Most notably, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, which has reduced its number of fax machines by 99%, from 212 to just three, for emergency use only.

And Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, the trust revealed to have the highest number of fax machines by the Royal College of Surgeons FOI report, has reduced its number of machines by 66%, from 603 to 208.

Another significant finding of the report concerns Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the trust which launched the ;Axe the Fax’ campaign soon after the RCS report was published.

It’s no secret that we would have wanted to remove even more than we have, but we are encouraged that each machine we remove is of massive benefit to waste reduction and progress towards a digital hospital

The trust fell short of its initial target to remove 95% of its 350 fax machines by 1 January this year, removing just 127 (36%).

But the latest figures show that progress has been made since then, with the trust having removed 54% of its fax machines.

Sarah Moorhead, associate director of digital demand at the trust, said: “Axing the fax has been a real challenge and many issues were found than we first imagined.

“It’s no secret that we would have wanted to remove even more than we have, but we are encouraged that each machine we remove is of massive benefit to waste reduction and progress towards a digital hospital.

“Our biggest challenge has been getting rid of fax machines that are used to communicate externally. Lots of outside organisations rely on fax machines to communicate with us, and some of them still heavily depend on paper-based solutions where they are yet to start their digital maturity journey.”

And she added that the eFax solution had proved a ‘really important tool’, helping the trust towards Hancock’s deadline.

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