By Claire Sutton RN (Adult), Digital Transformation Lead, National Care Forum.

Social Care is a sector that is facing ever more complex challenges. A hot topic for care providers at present is digital communication. Late last year Matt Hancock – Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced that all fax machines would be phased out of the NHS before April 2020. But where does this leave the care sector – much of which communicates with it’s health service partners by fax? There is a real concern that by April 2020 care providers could find themselves even less able to communicate with their local primary and secondary care NHS organisations than they currently are.

NHSmail is available for care providers, and completion of the Data Security and Protection Toolkit (DSPT) opens up the option for care providers to use secure email to replace fax communications. Requests to GPs and pharmacies, discharge summaries from hospitals, and referrals to community services should be able to be sent and received via email rendering the fax machine obsolete for communicating sensitive information. But how easy is this to access for care providers?

Research has suggested that the number of care providers using digital solutions is relatively low. With some experts suggesting this figure could be as low as just 20% of the sector, so clearly we have a long way to go to ensure that care providers are fully digitised, but the opportunity to get up to speed with what is now just 6 months away is very much available to care providers.

training and communication resources developed in collaboration with various national and regional partners,

There are a number of key sources of information around completing the DSPT and accessing NHSmail with guides published on digitalsocialcare.co.uk and support.nhs.net as well as training and communication resources developed in collaboration with various national and regional partners,which are all free to access by care providers nationally.

As a registered nurse I have first hand experienced the difficulties faced in a care home when communications do not run smoothly, I’m sure colleagues across care will recognise the frustration of having a person arrive from a hospital stay with no discharge summary and a patient belongings bag stuffed full of newly prescribed medications with very little explanation or handover. The reality of this situation is that an unsafe discharge can result in a hospital readmission which whilst frustrating for care and hospital staff, can be detrimental to the person affected and hardly represents the person centred approach to outstanding care provision that we all strive to deliver. Nobody wants to have to wait on the phone, or by a fax machine to exchange information that can be absolutely critical to the care they’re trying to provide and NHSmail can go some way towards solving this very real issue.

The journey to accessing NHSmail as a care provider does not have to be a difficult one, the DSPT has been formed in collaboration with care providers to ensure that the questions are understandable and relevant to the social care sector and ‘Entry Level’ is available solely to the care sector until the end of March 2020 meaning that in order to access an NHSmail account as a care provider you only need to meet 14 of the self certification assertions.

Will the April 2020 deadline for Axing the Fax really happen? Plans are very much underway, and social care is in a great position to engage in the process and lead the way by requesting that their health service partners communicate by secure email with them right now.

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