All acute hospital trusts in England are now only accepting electronic referrals for a first outpatient appointment with a consultant, NHS Digital has said.

In an announcement made at NHS Expo – currently taking place in Manchester – it was revealed 150 acute hospital trusts and 7,110 GP practices have moved to the NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS) for sending and receiving all first outpatient appointments.

NHS Digital had set a deadline of 1 October for the switch.

Steve Firman, the senior responsible owner for the e-RS programme at NHS England, said: “The NHS e-Referrals service works safely and quickly. It is a fantastic achievement all 150 acute hospital trusts are now on board ahead of the 1 October deadline.

“This is a result of months of hard work by trusts, their healthcare communities, CCGs and staff at NHS England and NHS Digital who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the system is ready in time.”

According to NHS Digital, trusts that have already made the move e-RS full-time report a halving of the number of patients who fail to show up for appointments.

NHS Digital said it was working with NHS England to support “full implementation” of e-RS.

The announcement on e-RS was referenced by Matthew Swindells, NHS England’s national director of operations, during his keynote address at NHS Expo in Manchester.

Swindells said: “We are the first country in the world where patients can book [an appointment] at a time and place that is convenient to them.

“That almost feels like a 21st century service, with systems talking to each other and integrated around patient experience.”

With e-RS, patients can book, change and cancel their won appointments online or through GP surgeries.

The move to paperless is said to greatly lessen the risk of letters going missing, while enabling clinicians able to digitally track their patients’ referrals.

As previously reported by Digital Health, from 1 October 2018, trusts will not receive any financial reward for first outpatient appointments with a consultant for which the referral was made by paper.

Dr Stephen Miller, national medical director of the e-RS programme within NHS Digital, said: “Universal use of the NHS e-Referral Service will have a big impact on improving the referral process for both doctors and patients, including enhancing communication between clinicians.

“This will result in fewer missed appointments, greater choice for patients and also a reduced number of unnecessary referrals, thanks to the advice and guidance function that allows GPs and consultants to discuss a patient’s course of treatment before a referral is considered.”

Last week, NHS Digital announced that all trusts in the North of England had gone live with e-RS.