Mistakenly-sent faxes may have led to prescription information being inadvertently shared with an outside party, it has been reported.
According to a post on the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) website, NHS England has been made aware of a number of faxes being sent to an un-named hotel group over the past few weeks.
The PSNC reported faxes had come from GP practices and community pharmacies across the country and included dispensing tokens and requests for medication.
A dispensing token is a paper copy of an electronic prescription, containing details including a patient’s name, address, GP address, NHS number and medication, a spokeswoman from PSNC confirmed.
The Committee said NHS England’s corporate information governance team had advised pharmacies to only use a fax machine when no other form of communication is available; to confirm the number with the intended recipient before sending it; and to confirm a fax has been received once sent.
“It is also important that any changes in a pharmacy’s contact details are shared with relevant healthcare contacts to ensure that information is not sent to out-of-date or out-of-service numbers,” the post concludes.
When approached by Digital Health News, NHS England denied the faxes contained any personal information or patient data. But a spokesperson could not confirm if dispensing tokens were among documents sent.
“PSNC posted an update to remind community pharmacy teams about their responsibility for ensuring faxes are sent to the correct address,” he said.
“We have been advised the faxes in question do not contain any personal information or patient data.”
When asked if more was known about the information contained in the faxes and which localities the faxes came from NHS England was unable to provide more detail.
Padraig O’Neill, member of the Axe the Fax campaign and European managing director of eFax/J2 Global, said misdialling fax numbers is a common mistake that can easily lead to data breaches.
“Misdialling such as this is a common error when it comes to faxing which can easily lead to data breaches or worse still, healthcare professionals not receiving medical information that they need to provide the best possible, timely patient care,” he told Digital Health News.
NHS trusts are banned from buying new fax machines as of January 2019, after health and social care secretary Matt Hancock ordered a complete phase-out of the technology by April 2020.
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.
But medConfidential, an independent organisation campaigning for confidential in the healthcare system, claims the blanket ban on faxes could endanger patients.
“While this mistake should not happen, the blanket ban proposed by the secretary of state will make all harms to patients far more common,” Sam Smith, coordinator at medConfidential said.