NHS banned from buying new fax machines as Hancock orders phase-out

  • 10 December 2018
NHS banned from buying new fax machines as Hancock orders phase-out

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.”

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  • @dave – upvote, well said 🙂

  • Scan and email? Really that is just basic efax. Just you get a PDF, how does that support a modern data world. Think we have been spending to much time with the Australians and their PDF database

    • The whole point is that everyone must be forced to use the NHS systems that they aim to ultimately control. they cannot have people exchanging communications they cannot access. This has always been the master plan. It is about data harvesting and surveillance. We are talking about the NHS Stasi.

      • Hmmmm – anyone who has ever worked in the NHS, at any level, will tell you that the main problem is that the NHS is incapable of a Master Plan!

        That would imply a central command and control, which every Minister or Secretary of State for Health from Nye Bevan onwards would confirm is a delusion!

        The NHS is a confederation of legally separate individual entities (Trusts, CCGs etc) over whom Matt Hancock has no direct control.

        • I am inclined to disagree. They don’t have a master plan that works for healthcare, but the have a master plan that works for their own ends that include data grabbing, downgrading NHS healthcare and diverting resources into health tech industries, so Britain will become a world leader (the new Imperialism. If we think they don’t have a plan that is because they are at pains to disguise it. Matt Hancock and his predecessor (who, hilariously, sees himself as the next PM) may not have direct authority, but they certainly have the means of calling the tune. These means include legislation, controlling the purse strings and signing the contracts plus a well established habit of duplicity. They are arch manipulators and blackmailers. Try persuading any NHS Trust to challenge “the framework set out by the Government” and see how far you get! Precisely nowhere in my experience, even when the said framework contravenes the GDPR. They have a great deal of power and they are abusing it. Bottom up development is just a convenient fiction to cover up government by diktat.

  • Yes this does all rather smack of soundbites rather than good sense. I do not think that fax machines are the biggest threat to the health service and ‘banning’ them (in itself an empty gesture given how many of them we have) won’t accomplish much.

    The issue of a place based communication method is an important one and that hasn’t been addressed. There are lots of situations where we shouldn’t use faxes but still some where they are needed.

  • A month ago this site published the case study of Cheshire and Wirral getting rid of paper and faxes for Continuing Healthcare assessments – an area of the NHS awash with fax machines. All gone from the service after 6 month roll out and cut off for accepting fax comms.


  • Agree fax is a notification system, similar to bleepers and phone notifications.

    If it’s not a notification then mesh (secure enail) should be used. They can be used in combination.

    We don’t have a national notification system though.

  • Talk about fiddling while Rome burns!

  • Imagine this. You are at a ward nursing station surrounded by a mixture of jds, locums, nurses, agency nurses and AHPs. A fax come through, and somebody picks it up and says “oh, urgent info” or “something from hospital x on patient y who is in here”, like, “I asked the GP to fax the current meds list on patient x to the ward”. This kind of thing happens. The thing is, fax is place based ie the number is associated with the place. This does not happen in any other form of comms we have, in fact weirdly, it is part of the benefit of other means of communication. However, there is a need to replicate this immediate form and I’m not sure we are completely there yet. Yes, you can say to a GP surgery, don’t fax this number, email this address, but people don’t sit looking at email accounts waiting for things to happen. Often people don’t know email addresses for individuals or groups on wards, and they don’t know bleep numbers for take teams etc. Bleeps of course require people to respond and by the time they can, the caller has gone. There are of course ways to link through to IM systems and link to various team structures but not many people have that technology yet, and the groups are complex to set up and monitor. With a fax, something pops up, and somebody deals with it.
    Don’t get me wrong, it’s old fashioned and I haven’t used a fax for years, but I’m aware of why they are used, and it isn’t just because people are stuck in the stone age. This directive is well meaning, but a bit daft. Stretch target yes, but if you prevented replacement of some fax machines from right now, you’d be putting people in danger and make no mistake.

  • It’s a good job that NHS mail is totally reliable, so backup options are never needed. There hasn’t been any major disruption since … let me search back … oh wait .. when was it …oh .. this month: https://www.digitalhealth.net/2018/12/nhsmail-outage-weekend/

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