NHS must use email as default, says Health Minister

The NHS has been urged to switch to email-only correspondence in a bid to modernise and save the service millions.

Secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock has called on the NHS to halt the use of fax and snail mail in the latest attempt to bring the health service up to date with technology.

Speaking at a conference in London, Hancock criticised those within the NHS who insist on using outdated methods to communicate with patients instead of more secure technological options.

NHS IT woes

Noting that the NHS reportedly spends £8m a year on paper and £2m a year on envelopes, Hancock declared, "we can save lives, save staff time and cut costs by using an extraordinary piece of technology that has the ability to allow two people to communicate instantaneously."

"It’s called email, I don’t know whether any of you have heard of it. We’re going to use it across the NHS, not just to communicate internally, but to communicate by default with patients,” he said.

Hancock added that more than half a million letters between GPs and hospitals have gone missing over the past five years, affecting 1,788 patients - 333 of which have died as a result.

“There’s no reason why a doctor can’t email a patient confidentially… as long as the email system is secure. Being able to email a patient is important, necessary and the right thing to do. Snail mail is slower and less secure," he added.

“We can’t get NHS technology into the 21st century until we catch up with the technologies of the 20th century. There are some people reacting against the use of 20-year-old technology. We are on the side of patients, of security and privacy, of improving and saving lives,” he said.

Hancock, who was previously Digital Minister, has made several major declarations aimed at modernising the NHS, with the expansion of NHS Digital a major focus.

The NHS has been plagued with a number of disastrous efforts to modernise and digitally transform in recent years, most notably the failure of a £9.8bn IT project that finally bit the dust in 2011.

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.