NHS boards in Scotland should be banned from buying fax machines and a date should be made for them to be phased out entirely, says a Highlands and Islands MSP.
David Stewart, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, previously asked health boards in Scotland how many had fax machines and was shocked to discover that more than 1,200 were still in use across the country.
The Department of Health in England has now banned the buying of machines and said their use should be phased out by 2020.
This followed a Royal College of Surgeons investigation which found nearly 9,000 fax machines were in use across NHS England.
Mr Stewart has now lodged a Parliamentary Question asking the Scottish Government if it will follow suit.
“The NHS is way behind other organisations and private companies which scrapped fax machines more than a decade ago,” explained Mr Stewart.
“It’s about time our health authorities were in step with technological advances and used secure emails instead.
“There is an argument that some fax machines should be kept in case of IT system failures, for contingencies, and that seems sensible but I cannot believe that such a large number are needed from day to day.
“The Scottish Government should be on top of this and invest in more modern communication systems. In the end it must save money and time.”
Under Freedom of Information, Mr Stewart asked NHS boards:
1) How many working fax machines each had in a) 2018 (b) 2017 and (c) 2016
2) What were the reasons for using fax machines instead of new, digitised technology?
He discovered NHS Grampian had 400 machines and that “communicating prescription requirements with the Pharmacy Department” was their main use. NHS Highland confirmed fax machines were still used but it did not know exact numbers, although added they were in the process of being phased out.
NHS Shetland had 15 fax machines and stated: “Fax is retained as a backup communication method and is only used by prior arrangement where the recipient is expecting the fax”.
While NHS Orkney had 28 to “maintain essential communications”. “Many of our locations have poor bandwidth links which are frequently unavailable and can take several days to repair,” it said.
NHS Western Isles had 18 and told the MSP: “Fax machines retained by depts/practices due to concerns over comms outages /old ways of working /supplier requirements. We are not replacing any fax machines and are actively discouraging any use.”