FAX machines are to be banned from the NHS in England in a bid to move to more secure hi-tech systems.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has blocked NHS trusts from buying new machines from January 2019 and has pledged to phase them out entirely by March 31, 2020.
A freedom of information request revealed in July that more than 8,000 fax machines are still being used across the NHS in England.
But from April, NHS organisations will have to use more modern, secure systems to comply with new standards. Any system that does not meet these standards will be phased out and the government has said it will end contracts with providers who do not fall in line.
Mr Hancock said: "Email is much more secure and miles more effective than fax machines. The NHS can be the best in the world – and we can start with getting rid of fax machines."
Richard Kerr, Chair of the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery, said it was "absurd" that so many NHS hospital trusts were still relying on faxes. He said: "Most other organisations scrapped fax machines in the early 2000s and it is high time the NHS caught up.
"Advances in artificial intelligence, genomics and imaging for healthcare promise exciting benefits for patients. As these digital technologies begin to play a bigger part in how we deliver healthcare it is crucial that we invest in better ways of communicating the vast amount of patient information that is going to be generated."
However, the RCGP has expressed some reservations. Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard commented: "While fax machines may be terribly old-fashioned, they do work and remain a highly valued and reliable form of communication between many GP surgeries and their local hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies.
"A wholesale switchover to electronic communication seems like a brilliant idea but for some practices it would require significant financial investment in robust systems to ensure their reliability was at least as good as the trusty fax machine, as well as having the time to embed - neither of which we have at present as GP teams are already beyond capacity trying to cope with unprecedented patient demand."
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