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Q&A with Somerset CCG

What prompted you to start your ‘axe the fax’ campaign? Was it in response to Hancock’s ban? Or was it already on the agenda?

Our campaign was driven primarily by Matt Hancock’s ban but it also coincided with our own organisational agenda around digital transformation and our move towards more effective and secure solutions for information sharing.

How many fax machines were in your organisation?

Our CCG headquarters had fourteen fax lines. Until recently we had four physical fax machines as well as the fax functionality available on our MFD (multifunctional device) units.

Have you managed to reduce this number? If so, how many fax machines are still in use?

Our fax machines were used for external communications to various partners. We have phased these out over time with the use of secure electronic mail, Skype and other alternatives. We currently have two operational fax lines at our headquarters.

What were/are fax machines being used for?

Most of the lines and machines had sat dormant for several years.

Our two remaining fax lines are under review. One is in regular use and this is used by our continuing health care fast track team to communicate with care homes and acute trusts. The other is an organisational line which is not regularly used but offers another method for patients and carers to contact us if they so wish, facilitating equity and consistency of access.

Are you confident of meeting Matt Hancock’s deadline to remove all fax machines in use by 31st March 2020? Do you have your own deadlines in place?

We are confident that we will meet the deadline, however, there is undoubtedly a great deal of work to be done to make sure that the alternatives that we put in place are fit for purpose and accessible by all.

Do you have a strategy in place for your ‘axe the fax’ campaign?

We have a plan in place to work with our GP practices, acute providers and care homes to make sure that we provide sufficient support to help them move from the use of faxes to robust, secure digital solutions. Making sure our alternatives to faxes are equitable and fair is very important to us as the need to make sure that everyone who needs to communicate with us, can do so in a safe, secure and easy manner.

What alternatives to fax have you found/implemented?

Our electronic solution includes providing appropriate email addresses for those partners who require secure communication and also assurances to patients around the appropriateness of such solutions.

Have you faced any challenges? If so, please explain!

A number of patient groups have raised concerns around equity of access, for examples, patients with impaired hearing, or poor vision, or learning disabilities have shared their concerns with us. Patient groups have also expressed concern that an over-reliance on digital solutions excludes those who don’t have access to suitable IT equipment, WiFi or broadband. Nearly half of our population live in rural areas and they can experience connectivity issues, even if they have a laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

We have been working with patient participation groups and support groups to understand the potential impact of removing our fax lines and to identify suitable alternatives which would address patient concerns. This is an ongoing programme of work.

Has anyone been hesitant about moving on from fax?

The majority of our partners have voiced a degree of hesitancy/concern, but equally, all are thus far engaging with us and are keen to make sure that we establish safe and timely alternative routes of communication.

We’ve seen you reaching out on Twitter to help other organisations, has anyone got back to you on that?

We’ve received a positive response from our acute providers as a result of our Twitter activity. Yeovil District Hospital NHS FT has implemented a programme of works to remove all fax facilities (with the exception of their international communications feed for clinical testing). They launched their own communications to GP practices and partner organisation just last week, advising them of the actions they have taken and the next steps. We are expecting them to share feedback on the initial reactions to this with us shortly.

Why do you think it’s important to ‘axe the fax’?

Security is paramount. Being able to assure our patients, carers and partners that communications are secure and not accessible by unintended parties is crucial in maintaining relationships at all levels. Where fax was once a leading form of communication, the infrastructure has moved on apace and we need to embrace the current and future means of safe and timely communication. And we need to encourage all of our partners to engage with us as we move forward together.

How else are working towards becoming paper free?

We are currently undergoing a series of internal office moves to support our recent organisational restructure. This has given us the opportunity to implement our move towards being a paperlite organisation. We have been encouraging colleagues

across the organisation to archive or shred documents and wherever possible to move towards electronic based filing systems.

We have a mobile shred it storage container on site which will remain until the completion of the office moves. We are currently holding more than 200 bags of confidential waste for secure destruction on top of our usual bi-weekly collections from our recycle bins throughout the building. It has been an enormous task to thin out paper based filing and retention of older documents but it has also been something that our colleagues have welcomed and undertaken with great energy.

Do you have any advice for other organisations looking to get rid of their fax machines?

Don’t be afraid! Be brave. Take the leap forward and embrace digital solutions!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Watch this space as we move forward with this programme of works. If anyone would like to work with us so that we can learn from each other and move forward with a consistent approach for our patients, carers and colleagues please do get in touch.