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NHS fax machines still gleaming: RCS finds over 8,000 owned by hospitals

12 Jul 2018

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has revealed that NHS hospital trusts own over 8,000 fax machines. Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Commission on the Future of Surgery, has criticised the health service’s reliance on a technology that was in popular use about the last time England were in a World Cup semi-final. 

Kerr said it was farcical that the NHS was investing in artificial intelligence and robot-assisted surgery, while at the same time persisting in using outdated technology to communicate and share information. A report by DeepMind Health in 2017 named the NHS as the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines.1

Freedom of Information requests made by the RCS show that NHS hospital trusts in England own a whopping 8,209 fax machines. Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust relies on an astonishing 603 fax machines. Barts Health NHS Trust owns 369 machines and Stockport NHS Foundation Trust owns 250. 

Mr Richard Kerr, RCS Council member and chair of the Commission on the Future of Surgery, said:

“Fax machines were in popular use about the last time England were in a World Cup semi-final. Despite all the years of hurt, NHS fax machines are still gleaming.” 

“The advances we are beginning to see in the use of artificial intelligence and imaging for healthcare, as well as robot-assisted surgery, promise exciting benefits for NHS patients. As the RCS’s Commission on the Future of Surgery is discovering, there is so much more to come. Yet, alongside all of this innovation, NHS hospital trusts remain stubbornly attached to using archaic fax machines for a significant proportion of their communications. This is ludicrous.    

“As digital technologies begin to play a much bigger role in how we deliver healthcare, it’s absolutely imperative that we invest in better ways of sharing and communicating all of the patient information that is going to be generated. The NHS cannot continue to rely on a technology most other organisations scrapped in the early 2000s.” 

NHS hospital trusts that own the most fax machines 

NHS hospital trust Number of fax machines
The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  603
Barts Health NHS Trust  369
Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  250
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  250
Stockport NHS Foundation Trust  250
Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust  237
Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust  235
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  234
Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust  215

The Royal College of Surgeons’ Commission on the Future of Surgery aims to set out a compelling and credible vision of the future advances in medicine and technology, as well as how those developments will affect the delivery of surgical care. Due to publish in the Autumn, it will consider developments in minimally invasive surgery, robot-assisted surgery, nanotechnology, radiology and imaging, artificial intelligence, genetics, oncology, 3D printing and planning, regenerative medicine, pharmacology, and anaesthesia.

Correction: The original version of this press release stated that Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust owned 400 fax machines, which is incorrect. We have corrected this and apologise to Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust for this error. The total number of fax machines found by the RCS has been amended following this. 

Notes to editor

1. DeepMind Health Independent Review Panel Annual Report (July 2017). 

2. Full Freedom of Information data available on request. 

3. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

4. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office
Telephone: 020 7869 6047/6052/6229
For out of hours media enquiries: 07966 486832

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