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Q&A with East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust

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?

The Axe the Fax campaign within the Trust is being carried out for a number of reasons:

  1. It was identified as an enabler to improve the frailty pathway in East Lancashire following an improvement event last summer
  2. In response to the communication from Matt Hancock
  3. To maximise use of digital technology, create streamlined processes and to encourage paperless working.

How many fax machines were/are in your organisation?

Initially, 245 fax machines were identified within East Lancashire Hospitals Trust but it further work showed this position was not as robust as it could have been and we have identified further machines that were not on our original list. We also had details for machines that were already no longer in use.

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

Initial work with departments to verify our starting position, identify their usage of the fax and other ways of communication has enabled reduction of the fax machines by around 38%.  It is estimated that there are around 150 fax machines still in the organisation.

What are fax machines being used for in your organisation?

Fax machines are being predominately used to send orders to Pharmacy from peripheral sites and to external GP practices and Care Homes as well as District nurse referrals.  Work is being undertaken to identify other ways of communicating this information.

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 the deadline for Matt Hancock’s removal of fax machines will be met by ELHT with the exception of KoFax being implemented for a small number of external users, although there is a considerable amount of work to do to ensure this.

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

A strategy is in place to Axe the Fax by removing fax machines at an average rate of 15% month-on-month.  Communications were sent out to all Trust employees encouraging a “fax amnesty” (see attached) and work has been carried out with IT to look at alternative options to faxing.

What alternatives to fax have you found/implemented?

Some examples:

  • Scanning and sending documentation by email rather than by fax is being used both internally and externally where secure email addresses are in place.  A direct scan and send email link is being implemented on our printers to send Pharmacy orders and generic email addresses are being set up within departments with multi-user access for staff.
  • GP Practices have been working with the ELHT Radiology department on a trial to communicate results via email rather than faxing them which has proved to be extremely successful and will be rolled out to other GP practices.
  • For internal departments on peripheral sites, shared IT folders has assisted in the reduction.

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

Communications involving multiple departments (both internal and external) – the less departments involved for any particular communication, the easier it has been!

Has anyone been hesitant about moving on from fax?

There has been resistance from a small number of people who have always used fax machines and are hesitant about moving to the use of new technology but overall the Axe the Fax Project is being embraced throughout the Trust.

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

Technology has advanced significantly since the fax machine was introduced 50 years ago and, as well as recognising the importance of technical innovation, the carbon footprint is extremely important to our organisation. Eliminating fax machines reduces paper usage and toner which helps optimise and neutralise our carbon emission.

  • Fax = inefficient process; time to send etc
  • Information governance risks will be reduced; incorrect number dialled, insecure recipient processes
  • Lost communications will be reduced (and subsequent incidences and risks – for example with missing referrals)

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

Communication and engagement is key.  Clear engagement with staff avoids any misunderstandings. Before removing fax machines carry out research into their usage to ensure an alternative system of communication has been put in place.

Do you have any questions for other organisations that have managed to “axe the fax”?

What difficulties were encountered in the removal of fax machines and what was the learning from this?  Did any potential further improvements come to light from carrying out this process.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Keeping up-to-date with technology is the way forward.