Members of the Kent Local Medical Committee (LMC) have expressed concerns the area’s imminent paper switch off for consultant-led first outpatient appointments will “compromise patient care”.

In an open letter to NHS Digital and local NHS organisations, the chair of the committee said it would not support the switch off of paper referral systems for initial outpatient appointments with a consultant.

Medway NHS Foundation Trust is due to go paper-free for these referrals in May, while Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust’s deadline is July and East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust is August.

The issue was discussed at a full LMC committee meeting in April.

The letter comes from Gaurav Gupta, the chair of the committee, and is addressed to the chief executives at local hospital trusts; managing directors, accountable officers and clinical chairs at local CCGs; to all Kent and Medway GP practices; and to NHS Digital.

It says the LMC will not agree to support use of the e-Referral Service (eRS) for consultant-led first outpatient appointments until:

  • All GPs and their staff are satisfied that they have been trained to use eRS
  • There is a complete and adequately updated directory of services, with available appointment slots
  • There is a backup system for use when there is an IT failure
  • Arrangements are in place to meet the needs of practices with connectivity problems and who cannot access eRS
  • The medico-legal aspects of this system are fully addressed by all concerned

Liz Capp-Gray, acting director of IT at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said local CCGs in the area are working with GPs to “ensure” staff have the “skills and IT infrastructure” to use the e-Referral system.

She added: “Since our ‘soft switch-off’ of hard copy referrals a few weeks ago, where we continued to accept both electronic and non-electronic referrals, we have seen the majority of referrals from GPs come through the e-referral system.

“We are continuing to talk to our colleagues in primary care and address the issues that they have raised and are hoping to implement our ‘hard switch-off’, where we will no longer accept non-electronic referrals, in the next few weeks.

“To ensure patient safety, however, we will continue to accept non-electronic referrals for patients who are undergoing care for suspected cancer for the immediate future.”

In March, Digital Health News reported on how the new GP contract for 2018/19 would ensure an extra £10 million would be spent on the implementation of e-RS to ensure it is available at every practice by October 2018 – and that provider trusts would not been paid for consultant-led first outpatient appointments resulting from a paper referral.