Government bans fax machines in the NHS

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The NHS will be banned from buying fax machines from next month – and has been told by the government to phase out the machines entirely by 31 March 2020.

In July, the Royal College of Surgeons revealed nearly 9,000 fax machines were in use across the NHS in England.

The Department of Health said a change to more modern communication methods was needed to improve patient safety and cyber security.

An RCS spokesman said they supported the government’s decision.

In place of fax machines, the Department of Health said secure email should be used.

Richard Kerr, who is the chair of the RCS’s commission on the future of surgery, said the continued use of the outdate technology by the NHS was “absurd”.

He added it was “crucial” that the health service invested in “better ways of communicating the vast amount of patient information that is going to be generated” in the future.

The group’s report from earlier this year found the use of fax machines was most common at the Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Trust, which still relied on 603 machines.

Three-quarters of the trusts in England replied to the survey – 95 in total. Ten trusts said that they did not own any fax machines, but four in ten reported more than 100 in use.

Facts on faxes

  • The first “facsimile” machine was invented in 1842 by Scotsman Alexander Bain
  • Bain’s invention worked by scanning a message written with special ink on a metallic surface. This picked up the electrical impression of the original and a telegraph circuit could be used to transmit the information
  • By the beginning of the 20th Century, fax machines were being used commercially by organisations such as newspapers
  • After technological improvements by Japanese companies, fax machines became widespread in the 1970s and 1980s
  • The technology reached its peak around the end of the 20th Century, and was then gradually replaced by more modern methods of communication

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