Find out about their paperless plans and the steps that have already been taken.

If the NHS can go paperless, why can't you?

The NHS is one of the biggest organisations in the world. BBC research released in 2012 named the UK health service as the world's fifth largest employer, with almost as many staff as huge multinational corporations like McDonald's and Walmart.

Dealing with one million patients every 36 hours, the NHS employed 150,273 doctors, 377,191 qualified nursing staff, 155,960 qualified scientific, therapeutic and technical staff and 37,078 managers in 2014. What's more, in the ten years after 2004, the number of nurses rose by an average of 0.5 per cent per year, while there was a 2.5 per cent annual increase in the number of doctors.

Given its sheer size, it should be apparent how much effort will be required to transform the NHS into a paperless organisation – yet the benefits of doing so are significant enough to make the transition worthwhile. Here, we take a look at the health service's plans to go paperless, and demonstrate the clear advantages of doing so for organisations of all sizes.

How NHS England plans to go paperless by 2020

By the end of this decade, the NHS wants to ditch the use of paper within England – an ambitious target, but one it clearly believes can be achieved.

When you look at the numbers, the financial case for making the switch really adds up. Taking into account storage and transportation costs, each NHS trust is currently spending between £500,000 and £1 million a year on paper – money that would be better spent on more doctors and nurses. Given that there are 155 acute, 56 mental health and ten ambulance trusts in England, the scale of savings that could be achieved here is huge.

What steps have been taken so far?

While the target for paperless is five years away, local health and care bodies have to start making preparations now. Their first deadline is already looming: by next April, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have been told they must detail plans on how they intend to eradicate paper usage in their region.

It is hoped that these proposals will keep local NHS leaders focused on modernising services and provide a way for CCGs to be held to account when it comes to meeting key milestones throughout the paperless transition.

But individual trusts aren't just being left to their own devices. Guidance has been produced in order to provide clarity about the process, incorporating a set of digital standards that must be implemented by healthcare providers.

As an example of this, all discharge summaries for acute or day care patients moving from hospital into the care of their GP must be completed electronically from October onwards.

Furthermore, from November, CCGs and providers will carry out a self-assessment to set a benchmark for their digital services, with the results forming a digital maturity index that will allow NHS bosses to establish how far the health service has progressed in its efforts to make greater use of technology.

Some NHS services are already paperless

While these plans represent something of a new direction for the NHS, the idea of a paperless health service is not a new one. Indeed, some NHS services are already operating on this basis.

For instance, the vast majority (97 per cent) of GP practices offer patients online access to a summary of their records, as well as appointment-booking and repeat prescriptions. In the first three months of 2015 alone, more than three million people registered to access their online records and over 3.7 million ordered repeat prescriptions via the web.

Of all people registered with a GP, 96 per cent have a summary care record. One in three ambulance services share this information in real time with accident and emergency departments and out-of-hours providers, contributing to greater patient safety – particularly on issues like allergies and other adverse reactions to drugs.

Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at NHS England and chair of the National Information Board, said: "Whether it is patient frustration about not being remembered or professional concern about managing care in the face of unknown risks, the effectiveness and safety of NHS services will be strengthened from being delivered paper-free at the point of care.

"Without fully digitised patient data that can be shared across healthcare settings, the NHS cannot modernise in the way that is required."

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