Wales is to begin rolling out its electronic referral system after positive feedback from pilot GP practices, Informing Healthcare has announced.

The Welsh IT agency said its Welsh Clinical Communications Gateway, a version of the Scottish Care Information Gateway, will be rolled out to all health communities over 12 to 18 months, starting this June.

Informing Healthcare said more than 1,200 referrals were successfully sent electronically during a ten week evaluation period.

The pilot covered five GP practices in Cardiff and Vale, referring to four hospitals, and two practices in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, sending to two hospital sites.

In three practices, 60% of the GPs used the Gateway themselves to send referrals, reducing the estimated three days taken to dictate, type and send a letter to approximately 30 seconds.

In one case, a practice was able to free up 50% of a secretary’s time by using the system, Informing Healthcare said.

Other benefits included a reduction in the time taken to track a referral from six hours to 30 seconds and improvements to governance thanks to the electronic audit trail.

A spokesperson for Informing Healthcare told EHI Primary Care that four health communities – Cardiff and Vale, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, Hywel Dda and Aneurin Bevan – would implement the gateway over the next 12 months with others planned for 2011.

She added: “The WCCG will be available for all health boards to implement from June 2010.

"Informing Healthcare is working closely with each health board to agree an implementation plan; rollout will be dependent on the readiness of each health community to implement electronic referrals over the next 12 to 18 months.”

GPs across Wales refer around 650,000 patients a year.