FOI request shows NHS Trusts to miss fax machine deadline

A new report looking into the number of fax machines still in use across NHS England has shown a lack of progress amongst NHS Trusts working to remove their fax machines and meet Matt Hancock’s April 2020 deadline.

The report reveals that the trusts with the most fax machines, according to data collected by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) last year, have collectively axed just 42% of those machines 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 FOI also found that trusts which have identified a solution for replacing their fax machines have, on average, removed 9.4% more fax machines than those that haven’t.

J2 Global is the provider of an internet-based fax technology eFax which enables users to send and receive faxes online and via email.

J2 EMEA director Scott Wilson said: “The lack of progress amongst NHS trusts, with just six months to go until the government deadline, is indicative of just how challenging axing the fax is.

“If trusts continue to remove fax machines at this rate, the majority of them won’t be fax-free by 31 March 2020.

“It’s also important to remember that replacing fax machines generally gets harder the further down the line you get. Trusts start with the easy wins – redundant fax machines and those with low levels of usage. But some fax machines are more important to the way a trust communicates, particularly with external organisations.”

The latest FOI request was issued to each of the fourteen trusts that responded to Royal College of Surgeons FOI request declaring they had 200 or more fax machines. Three of the fourteen trusts failed to reply.

Amongst those that did, two trusts said that they have more fax machines in use now than they did when the RCS FOI was issued in July 2018: the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust has 251 fax machines (one more than reported in July 2018) whereas the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has 252 (two more than reported in July 2018).

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. Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust has reduced its number of fax machines by 99%, from 212 to three (for emergency use).

Meanwhile, Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust has reduced its number of machines by 66%, from 603 to 208.

Another significant finding of the report concerns Leeds Teaching Hospitals, the trust which launched the “Axe the fax” campaign soon after the RCS report was published.

The trust fell short of its initial target to remove 95% of its 350 fax machines by 1 January 2019, removing just 127 (36%). But the latest figures show that progress has been made since then, with the Trust having removed 54% of its fax machines.

Sarah Moorhead, associate director of digital demand, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 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.”

In December 2018, support for the campaign surged, after the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, banned the NHS from buying any more fax machines and ordered a complete phase-out of existing machines by 31 March 2020.


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