The launch of the NHS’ e-Referral Service has been delayed until next spring in order to limit possible disruption to patients using it, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
The service, originally scheduled to go live next month, replaces the Choose and Book system that has been in use for nearly 10 years, and which allows health service professionals and patients to select preferred provider, book appointment dates and times and to confirm appointments.
HSCIC said more testing is required on the service’s functioning, performance and its interactions with GP and hospital systems and the NHS Spine.
“We are also working on training materials, the design and appearance of the user screens and online help files,” HSCIC said in a statement. The centre said it is currently testing the open source software upon which e-Referrals is based and the hosting infrastructure for the new service. It said 60 million referrals will need to be transferred to the new system after launch.
HSCIC said it decided to delay the launch “to ensure there is confidence that there will be no disruption to patient care for the 40,000 patients who use the service every day”. It plans to confirm the revised date by the end of November.
The service is intended to cut NHS waiting times and to expand online booking to more users.
In April the Public Accounts Committe (PAC) said Choose and Book was underused and called for NHS England to more clearly articulate how it plans to improve usage of the new system.
e-Referrals is part of a broader movement to make the NHS paperless by 2018.
Choose and Book was one of the projects delivered under the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), set up by the Labour government in 2002, which came under continuous criticism for rising costs and dubious management.
The Conservative government in 2011 announced NPfIT was to be “urgently dismantled“.
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