A new report looking into the number of fax machines still in use across the NHS in England has shown “a concerning lack of progress” amongst trusts working to remove the them ahead of the April 2020 deadline.

The report reveals that the trusts with the most fax machines have collectively axed just 42% over the past twelve months, with less than six months to go until the ‘axe the fax’ deadline.

The new findings come from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request published by Silver Buck, the marketing and PR agency responsible for running the Axe the Fax campaign.

The FOI also found that trusts that had identified a solution for replacing their fax machines had, on average, removed 9.4% more fax machines than those that hadn’t.

This latest FOI request follows that published by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) July 2018, which revealed that the NHS was the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines with nearly 9,000 in use across the healthcare system.

A fresh FOI request was issued to each of the fourteen trusts that responded to RCS FOI request declaring they had 200 or more fax machines.

Three of the fourteen trusts did not respond.

Amongst those that did, two trusts said they had more fax machines in use now than they did when the RCS FOI was issued in July 2018: the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust (one more than reported in July 2018) and the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (two more).

Other trusts, while reducing their number of fax machines, demonstrated a lack of significant progress over the past year. Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, for instance, reduced its number of fax machines by less than 16%, from 237 to 200.

Some trusts, however, have shown progress. Most notably, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust which has reduced its number of fax machines by 99%, from 212 to just 3 (for emergency use only).

Meanwhile, Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, the trust revealed to have the highest number of fax machines by the RCS FOI report in July last year, has reduced its number of machines by 66%, from 603 to 208.

Bad start

Leeds Teaching Hospitals launched the Axe the Fax campaign soon after the RCS report was published, pledging to remove 95% of its 350 fax machines by 1 January 2019 and ultimately failing to do so.

The latest figures show that progress has been made since then, with the trust having removed 54% of its fax machines.

It is now piloting an eFax service, which enables users to send and receive faxes online and via email.

Support for the Axe the Fax surged in December 2018 when health secretary Matt Hancock banned the NHS from buying more fax machines and ordered a complete phase-out of the technology by 31 March 2020.

Sarah Moorhead, associate director of digital demand at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, said: “Axing the fax has been a real challenge and many issues were found than we first imagined. It’s no secret that we would have wanted to remove even more than we have, but we are encouraged that each machine we remove is of massive benefit to waste reduction and progress towards a digital hospital.

“Our biggest challenge has been getting rid of fax machines that are used to communicate externally. Lots of outside organisations rely on fax machines to communicate with us, and some of them still heavily depend on paper-based solutions where they are yet to start their digital maturity journey.

“eFax has been a really important tool for us, getting over this hurdle, and it’s part of the reason that we’re still confident of meeting Hancock’s deadline.”