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Health Secretary Says NHS Must Use Email by Default

Matt Hancock says switching to email as the standard form of contact will ultimately save lives.

The secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock, has criticised NHS staff who still insist upon letters as the default communication between doctors and patients.  

Hancock says switching to email as the standard form of contact will ultimately save lives.

His speech at the NHS England Empowering people in a digital world conference in London criticised those in the health service who reject the use of modern, secure communications in favour of relying almost solely on paper letters.

Speaking on the reliance on paper in the NHS, Hancock’s speech reiterated his previous incentive to ‘axe the fax’ which led to a ban on NHS organisations buying fax machines.

“We spend £8 million a year in the NHS on paper. We spend £2 million a year on envelopes. We can save lives, save staff time and cut costs by using an extraordinary piece of technology that has the ability to allow two people to communicate instantaneously,” he said.

Hancock went on to explain that there is no reason why a doctor cannot email a patient confidentially as long as the email system is secure. He insisted that in a city such as London, people change their home address more often than their email address.

Under his ambition, patients who prefer to receive letters will continue to do so, but Hancock insists that the idea that the NHS “shouldn’t use a technology because it can’t be used for everybody is a huge mistake”.

The privacy of patients is not the only factor in his initiative to move to email; the urgency of information and the difference it can make between life and death of patients was also cited as vital.

“More than half a million letters between GPs and hospitals have gone missing over the past five years. If I need to motivate both the privacy and the operational need to update this outdated technology, that half million figure is right at the top of the list.

“Of the 1,788 patients who may have been harmed as a result, 333 have since died. We don’t know the direct effect between missing letters and life and death outcomes, but it could be the difference between life and death.”

In October 2018, Hancock set out his technology vision for the NHS, which focuses on modern technology architecture, user needs, privacy and security, interoperability and inclusion.

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