The NHS e-Referral Service will finally go live this Monday, replacing Choose and Book; but users shouldn't expect major changes until later in the summer.
In a conference call this afternoon (Tuesday), the Health and Social Care Information Centre said the transition will begin on the evening of Friday, 12 June and continue over the weekend, with new the service available from the morning of Monday, 15 June.
Stephen Miller, medical director for the e-Referral Service project, said he expected that every person who is able to use Choose and Book on Friday evening would be able to use the new system on Monday morning "with no additional training”.
“The feedback we’ve had from users who have done assurance testing is that it looks and feels at least as good, if not better, than Choose and Book,” said Miller.
“Intentionally you won’t find any major changes at this stage. For some people that may be a disappointment; but if we had gone and launched a brand new system that had lots and lots of changes from day one I expect we would have got more complaints.”
Instead, it’s the backend of the system that has been developed to allow greater functionality than Choose and Book, which was launched in 2004 as a way for patients to go online and pick a place, date and time for their first outpatient appointment in a hospital.
Miller said: “What will have changed is our ability to develop and redevelop the system in a much more agile in response to user needs.”
Ben Gildersleve, programme director for the project, add that the technical aspects of the e-Referral Service are “completely brand new”.
“It’s been built in a way that moving forward, on a much more rapid basis, we can update the service. So rather than doing big releases every six months, we can do much smaller releases every few weeks.”
NHS England and the HSCIC have been working for the past two years on replacing Choose and Book, which is available at nine in ten healthcare providers and is used to refer around 40,000 patients a day.
Usage has stalled at around 50%, however, and the HSCIC and NHS England have used feedback from 2,500 stakeholders, including patients and NHS professionals, to ensure the new system can suit user needs.
Regarding the potential of the system, Gildersleve said that the focus right now is on the go-live and that extra functionality will be outlined by Beverley Bryant, director of strategic systems and technology at NHS England, later this summer.
He added that the HSCIC and NHS were not intending to deliver “big lumps of new functionality” but were interested in “smaller packages to make the service better for users”.
Miller mentioned several potential developments down the line, including the ability to link appointments in a care pathway so that all take place in a pre-determined order and enabling patients to book follow-up appointments electronically.
He added there was the possibility of developing different ways to access the service, including smartphone apps, e-mails and text reminders.
The NHS e-Referral Service was originally meant to go live in November 2014 but was delayed until spring 2015 due to the need for “significant test, assurance and defect resolution activity” to be completed.