NHS promises delayed e-Referral service will launch in June

The new NHS e-Referral service is set to replace Choose and Book in June, after a seven-month delay.

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The new NHS e-Referral service will launch in June, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has announced.

The service was supposed to go live in November but was delayed after failing 11 out of 26 criteria during an assessment by the Government Digital Service (GDS) four months earlier.

It will replace the 10-year-old NHS booking system Choose and Book, which allows patients to book hospital appointments online.

HSCIC said the transition “should not cause any disruption to patient care or working practices” but admitted “it is inevitable that there will be some issues that are identified when the system is live”.

The GDS assessment last July concluded the e-Referrals team needed to “carry out significant additional work to demonstrate compliance with the required standards”.

It said the team lacked plans to maintain the service once live, had not done enough user research, had inadequate benchmarking of key metrics like completion rates, costs and take-up. It also said the user interface was not simple or intuitive enough.

However GDS said the team had managed to use open source platforms, avoid vendor lock-in and contribute to open standards. It also praised the team for developing “new, modern, open-source based software” and infrastructure to host the new service.

All new government digital services are obliged to meet 26 criteria, known as the ‘digital by default service standard’, before being launched.

HSCIC said 40,000 patients use the service every day but the change will “enable many more users in future” and help to cut NHS waiting times.

It promised the new service will be “functionally equivalent” to Choose and Book and will include all past and current referrals from the predecessor service.

The service is a critical step towards achieving paperless referrals and thus a vital part of plans to achieve a paperless health service, according to HSCIC.

However in April 2014 the Public Accounts Committee said Choose and Book had been underused by patients and healthcare professionals and that it was sceptical e-Referrals would be used any more fully.

It called for NHS England to develop clear plans for how it will build confidence in the new system and improve its use.

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