More than half of all hospital trusts in England are now using the NHS e-Referral Service, NHS Digital has revealed.

A total of 79 NHS trusts are now using the digital referral system for outpatient appointments, with a further 10 expected to make the switch from paper referrals by the end of the month, according to NHS Digital data.

The NHS e-Referral Service – or e-RS – aims to improve the efficiency of the referral management process by making it easier and quicker to make referrals, while also facilitating better communication between primary and secondary care settings.

The traditional paper method is currently being phased out across all NHS trusts. From 1 October 2018, providers will no longer be paid for activity that results from referrals that are not made through e-RS.

A new GP contract agreed by NHS England in April sees an additional £10 million made available to GP practices to support the full implementation of e-RS by October.

Eve Roodhouse, director of implementation at NHS Digital, said: “It is really encouraging that we have hit this major milestone and it’s an incredible achievement which is the result of a lot of hard work from all involved.

“e-RS puts the patient at the heart of the referral because it allows patients to book an appointment at a location, date and time that is convenient to them.

“Not only that, but the booking is immediate, speeding up the time it takes to be treated and reducing the number of appointments where the patient fails to attend by up to half.”

County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were the first to start processing all referrals electronically via e-RS, the former having completed the switch last month.

Yet some GPs have voiced concerns at the looming deadline. In May, the chair of the Kent Local Medical Committee (LMC) said it would not support the switch-off of paper referrals for initial outpatient appointments, on the basis that it could compromise patient care.