Hospital referrals go 100% electronic for more than half a million patients in North East

A North East NHS Trust has gone 100% electronic by eliminating paper hospital referrals from GPs.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust are utilising an e-referral system thanks to a three-month campaign with NHS Digital that could save £50.5 million a year, if it was replicated across the health service.

From the start of October this year, Trusts will only be paid for outpatient appointments that are booked electronically.

Patients in County Durham can now go online and book an outpatient appointment, with instant confirmation of when it is. GPs can also access advice and guidance on treatment from consultants. Using the e-referral system lets patients chose the nearest suitable hospital for their appointment.

GPs send e-referrals via the NHS’ electronic referrals service (e-RS) to the hospital’s patient administration system, Camis from Emis Health.

As well as processing outpatient appointments electronically, they can also ask consultants for advice and guidance on treatment before making a referral, to cut hospital appointments to a minimum.

NHS asked the Trust to push for the 100% target because it already had a high success rate (80%) in e-referrals.

Patient booking manager at the Trust, Margaret Herkes, said:

“We liaised with local GPs to understand why they did not always refer through the e-RS. There were two main reasons. One was that not all hospital consultants were named on the e-RS, so they had to send a paper referral if they wanted a specific clinician.

“The other was that GPs could not refer through e-RS if they only wanted advice, not an appointment. We worked with Emis Health to develop Camis so that the system could do this for us and a month later, 100% of e-referrals were electronic.”

“It has massively cut down on the time patients wait to hear about a hospital appointment, and it means clinicians’ time is used much more efficiently.”

Dr Nicola Murray from the local Clinical Commissioning Group said: “e-RS should be standard throughout the NHS. It is quicker, cheaper and safer than paper referrals, as it provides an audit trail and unique UBRN number in our worklists so that we can track patients. It means we do not have to spend time on the phone chasing referrals and advice.

Ian Taylor, chief operating officer at Emis Health said: “Emis Health was founded on the principle of working in partnership with clinicians to develop and improve our clinical systems. We were delighted to work with County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust to help further improve their already efficient e-RS and make life easier for clinicians and patients, as well as helping the trust to maximise its income from referrals.”

Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via:

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