NHS delays e-Referral service launch until 2015

The launch of the new NHS e-Referral service has been delayed until spring 2015, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has announced.

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The launch of the new NHS e-Referral service has been delayed until spring 2015, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has announced.

The service was originally due to go live next month. It will replace the existing electronic booking system Choose and Book, which allows patients to book hospital appointments and has been used by the NHS for almost 10 years.

However HSCIC admitted it still needs to test “how the service functions, how quickly it performs and how it operates with GP and hospital systems, as well as the NHS Spine.”

It added: “We are also working on training materials, the design and appearance of the user screens and online help files.”

HSCIC said it will confirm the revised launch date by the end of November.

GDS: ‘significant’ work needed

e-Referrals failed an assessment by the Government Digital Service (GDS) in July, with GDS saying it had not managed to fulfil 11 out of the 26 criteria used for evaluations and it did not see “sufficient evidence” that e-Referrals was on track to meet them.

The service failed on points including understanding user needs, having a suitably skilled team and manager, building a service than can be frequently iterated, creating a simple and intuitive service, having appropriate assisted digital support, and making source code open and reusable.

GDS said the e-Referrals team would need to “carry out significant additional work to demonstrate compliance with the required standards.”

It claimed the team did not have “a plan to support and maintain the service once it is live” and lacked a suitably simple and intuitive user interface.

GDS added e-Referrals had gathered stakeholder opinions instead of conducting the necessary qualitative and quantitative user research to meet the standard.

It also criticised e-Referrals as not having good enough benchmarks for user satisfaction, completion rates, low transaction costs and take-up.

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

‘Some positive outcomes so far’

However GDS acknowledged the team “has achieved some positive outcomes so far in respect of stakeholder engagement, using open source platforms, getting away from vendor lock-in, and contributing to open standards”.

HSCIC said it had made the decision to delay the launch “to ensure there is confidence that there will be no disruption to patient care for the 40,000 patients who use the service every day.”

It added achievements on e-Referrals so far include development of “new, modern, open-source based software” which it is currently testing, and infrastructure to host the new service.

The centre hopes that the new service will ‘enable many more users in future’, cut waiting times in the NHS and make it more safe, secure and convenient for patients.

In April 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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