NHS trusts will be banned from purchasing new fax machines beyond January 2019, after the health and social care secretary ordered a complete phase-out of the technology by April 2020.

Under the directive of Matt Hancock, NHS organisations have been instructed to remove all fax machines from operation by 31 March 2020 and move toward more modern and secure methods of communication.

Organisations will be monitored on a quarterly basis until they declare themselves ‘fax free’, the Department of Health and Social Care announced on 9 November.

The directive forms part of Hancock’s tech vision for the NHS, described in an initial policy paper in October and containing a strong focus on open standards and information sharing.

Announcing the fax ban, Hancock said he wanted to “bring [the NHS] into the 21st century and use the very best technology available”.

“We’ve got to get the basics right, like having computers that work and getting rid of the archaic fax machines still used across the NHS when everywhere else got rid of them years ago,” the health and social care secretary said.

“I am instructing the NHS to stop buying fax machines and I’m setting a deadline for getting rid of them altogether. Email is much more secure and miles more effective than fax machines. The NHS can be the best in the world – and we can start with getting rid of fax machines.”

Fax off

The aim of phasing out fax machines has been notably championed by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust’s ‘Axe the Fax’ campaign.

Launched in September, it encourages NHS organisations to commit to removing fax machines and to share best practices that could help speed up the process.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals has pledged to remove 95% of some 320 remaining fax machines by 1 January 2019 and replace them with more modern processes, such as scan-to-email.

Richard Corbridge, CIO of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “[The] announcement that fax machines will not be purchased from next month and be banned from March 2020 is a landmark in the Axe the Fax campaign, which has been locally led and driven and received huge buy-in not only from NHS organisations across the country but as far as the US and Australia.”

The bid to eradicate fax machines followed a freedom of information request in July, which revealed a startling reliance on the technology within the NHS.

The request, made by the Royal College of Surgeons, found that there were some 9,000 fax machines still in use across the health service, which were scrapped by most other industries in the early 2000s.

Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Commission on the Future of Surgery, said: “It is ludicrous that so much of the NHS is still reliant on fax machines to communicate.

“There are very exciting technologies coming down the road that promise to transform the way we provide medical care to patients.

“The NHS needs a modern communications system that matches up to these technological advances.”