Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Life

Progress towards a paperless NHS

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 07 October 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i4448
  1. Thomas Macaulay, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK

Is the NHS on track to become paperless by 2020, or is it heading for a paper jam?

[Progress towards a paperless NHS]


The NHS has set itself the target to be a paperless service by 2020. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is fully behind the plan and has committed £1.8bn (€2.1bn; $2.3bn) towards it as part of a £4.2bn cash injection to improve the uptake of new technologies in the NHS.

This money will support plans in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View to provide better, more cost effective care through electronic records and interoperable systems within five years.1 But with less than four years to go, experiences on the ground suggest that there’s a lot of work still to be done to realise this vision.

“I feel like sometimes I’m stepping back in history when I’m at work,” says Rhys Davies, a foundation year 2 doctor at Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, currently working in general practice. “I think a paperless NHS would be a very good thing for everyone concerned. But I have trouble believing it when we’re still using fax machines in 2016.”

A few months ago, a new patient was repatriated to Davies’ ward. When the patient arrived with incomplete paperwork, Davies asked a colleague at the patient’s previous hospital to fax over his drug chart. But as it was after 5 o’clock, all the secretaries had gone home and locked up the offices.

“It took me an hour and a half until I found a fax machine that I could use out of hours,” says Davies, 27. “If we had a more paperless system, [the drug chart] could have just been emailed.”

Efficiencies and paper trails

It is estimated that junior doctors spend up …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription