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NHS Digital has said that the NHS is set to save approximately £50 million when all first outpatients' referrals have to be made electronically from later this year.
Having just launched the 'Just e-Referrals' campaign, NHS Digital said the move is expected to halve the rate of patients missing appointments from 10 per cent to five per cent as patients are able to choose an appointment at a time and date that suits them.
From 1 October 2018, GPs will refer patients using the NHS e-Referral service (e-RS) which will also allow doctors and patients will be able to see in advance which services are available and how quickly they can be seen.
At present, 19 trusts have already achieved paper switch-off, with more in line to do so before the end of the month. Most trusts have agreed target dates for all referrals to be electronic ahead of the October deadline, with individual trust goals published on the NHS Digital website.
Stephen Miller, National Medical Director of the e-RS programme within NHS Digital, said: "The NHS e-Referral Service helps to relieve the burden on GPs by cutting down on their paperwork and reducing the number of patients who go back to them to find out what is happening with their hospital appointment. The system also reduces the risk of letters going missing and allows doctors to more easily track their patients' referrals."
Steve Firman, the senior responsible owner for the e-referral programme at NHS England, added: "Fully switching to electronic referrals will have benefits right across the NHS, from cutting the burden on clinician's time as well as giving patients more choice of date, time and location of their appointments."