GPs across England face being fined if they don't make use of a new e-referral system that is due to be launched by the end of this year, according to plans being developed by NHS England.
The e-referral system, which has been modelled off popular flight-booking websites, is central to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's plans to create a paperless NHS by 2018. It is hoped that if this target is met it could deliver the government savings of £4.4 billion a year.
According to specialist health publication Pulse, NHS England has set its sights on getting 100 percent of practices using the new system by 2017 and that it is considering penalties for Gps that don't use it to make referrals.
Speaking to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee this week, chief executive of NHS England, Sir David Nicholson, said that they were looking at an "incentive stroke penalty system" to maximise uptake.
The system will allow 'anyone to anyone' referrals, with GPs able to refer to any NHS service and diagnostics. It will also be designed for mobile and patients will be able to book follow-up appointments via the system.
Sir David told MPs: "GPs, of all our clinicians across the NHS, are probably the most technically advanced. They've got more digital systems than almost anybody. So it's not that they're frightened, they just don't like the way the system works and it affects their patients they think they don't want different ways, and we've been unable to persuade them of that.
"But I think we're getting to the point here, where we've heard from e-referrals implementation, is that we want to get a system where we can make it a mandatory system as we go forward."
He added: "The question we've got to ask is, in a sense - to get as wide a support for it as we can - and then: What is the incentive stroke penalty system we want to put in place to ensure that it actually works?"
By March 2015 everyone in the UK should be able to get online access to their health records held by their GP, according to Jeremy Hunt, and there should be a clear plan in place to enable secure linking of these electronic health and care records wherever they are held.
The NHS Commissioning Board will be leading the implementation and it has set a clear expectation that hospitals should plan to make information digitally and securely available by 2014/15.
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