Provider trusts will now only receive payment for outpatient appointments for which the referral was made electronically, in a change intended to encourage use of the NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS).
NHS England’s Standard Contract for 2017/19 – which comes into force on 1 October – will offer no financial reward for consultant-led first outpatient appointments if the referral was made by paper.
In a post published on the NHS transformation blog, Eve Roodhouse – NHS Digital interim executive director – revealed that 16 trusts have already made the switch to e-RS, with a further 16 due to go paper-free on referrals before the end of March.
She said the NHS e-Referral Service already handles 50,000 patient referrals a day. But she added take-up of the service had stagnated at around 52%, and that the NHS had “collectively missed the opportunity to maximise the technology investment”.
Roodhouse referenced a 2014 report from the National Audit Office that suggested the NHS could save upwards of £50 million a year if e-RS was used to book appointments for all GP-to-first-outpatient referrals.
To help trusts make the switch from paper to e-RS, NHS Digital and NHS England have published a series of resources and a “communications toolkit” to assist with implementation.
Additional support will be provided through the NHS’s Implementation and Business Change Team.
Said Roodhouse: “Achieving paper switch off will be a significant milestone for e-RS and we are absolutely committed to supporting trusts to make the switch to only using e-referrals as smooth and successful as possible.
“We are determined to achieve a step change in the adoption and use of our digital technology solutions for the benefit of patients.”
NHS Digital and Digital Health have run several webinars best practice webinars exploring the switch over, with the most recent bringing together a panel from CCGs and acute trusts that have already moved to e-RS.