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Q&A with Vicki Cooper, Head of Digital Transformation at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust

Last month, Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust exceeded its deadline to be 85% fax free before March 2019, we caught up with Vicki Cooper to find out more about the trust’s #axethefax campaign.

What prompted Walsall to ‘axe the fax’? Hancock’s ban? Or was this already on the agenda?

It was driven by the paper free at the point of patient care 2020 agenda DoH. Also, it was a personal agenda of mine when I joined the Trust in Oct 2016, having completed something similar at my previous Trust through robust Info Governance steer and direction.

Did you make a pledge? Did you meet your deadline?

Yes, we made a pledge based on researching successes at other Trusts and what was realistic in an acute Trust which is heavily reliant on paper, and also where GP’s were using faxing. We did have to amend this, as we originally set 8 months from Feb 2018, but we set this knowing we wanted to achieve 85% fax free by March 2019, so the 8 months was the first push to then break the back of it. We made 60% by Oct 2018 which was where we expected to be.

Did you use any resources from the axe the fax campaign  – stickers, pledge cards, top tips? 

Yes, we changed our project name from Face up to Fax, to Axe the Fax, we also used your top tips and shared some graphics from Twitter.

What were fax machines being used for? How many were there?

We had 85 within the Acute Hospital and, in the main, they were used for sending and receiving referrals internally, externally within area and out of area, for ordering stock, procurement, for internal form completing for services like IT (new access forms).

What was your strategy to ‘axe the fax’?

To simply educate staff to start thinking about the security of patient information, and to look at innovative digital transformation.

What alternatives to fax have you found/implemented?

We have used email as a replacement, Microsoft Teams and also internal applications such as PAS and ERS.

What was the biggest challenge?

Barriers to change, and confidence in other methods of transferring data, thinking about faxing as easy rather than secure.

Was anyone hesitant about moving on from fax?

Very much so, to the point that some staff said they would only stop faxing if it came from the Chief Exec and so we approached our Chief Exec and asked him to formally announce it at the exec team briefs.

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

To ensure patient data is safe, and to move to the 21st century in terms of digitising and less reliance on paper.

Have you noticed any immediate benefits since making the switch?

Confidence in staff that change is happening and it can be ok, confidence that they can be empowered to look at alternative ways of working, cost savings in terms of fax line rental. Reduced spend on purchasing fax machines.

Has Walsall kept any faxes for business continuity?

No, we were very clear that faxing would not be considered for business continuity – in the same way, we don’t often have wired analogue phones at home as ‘back up’.

What advice would you give to other organisations wanting to reduce/remove their fax machines?

You will have challenging and difficult conversations, get all your facts, make sure you reference patient safety, and get buy-in from your execs, and champion the project, it is good news story and applaud the services that switch early, then it becomes competitive and those laggers won’t want to be left behind. Don’t take no for an answer, find ways to innovate.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Do lots of floorwalking, services might hide the faxes or say they are used for scanning, so we had a cut off time for fax lines and then just disconnected them so this was our assurance that they had stopped faxing.

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