The NHS e-Referral Service has hit 100 million bookings since it was launched in 2005 as the NHS Choose and Book Service.
Currently the service is booking around 400,000 referrals every week. It allows patients or clinicians to book appointments in hospital or other care settings online and has been shown to reduce the number of people who fail to attend their appointment.
It enables patients to choose the time and the place most convenient for them, cuts administration for doctors, reduces the use of paper and saves time and money that can be better used for patient care.
The news comes as new guidance has been launched for GPs to ensure they are getting the most out of the NHS e-Referral Service.
Part of the guidance will include advice to GPs on encouraging patients to look after their own bookings and appointments through the Manage Your Referral website.
This means patients will be able to manage their appointments 24/7, allowing them to check, cancel or change their bookings around the clock.
In October all 150 acute trusts in England completed the switch to the NHS e-Referral Service, meaning that all first outpatient appointments must now be booked through the system.
Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust has discovered that patients on average receive their appointments eight days faster by using e-RS.
This has led to improved care as patients can be sure that they are being referred to the right person at the right time, in the right place, which cuts down on the chances of being booking into inappropriate appointments.
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “This is a great example of how technology can save staff time, get patients seen faster and make every pound go further.
“It is by embracing these sorts of innovations that we will make the NHS the most technologically advanced healthcare system in the world.”
Dr Stephen Miller, National Medical Director of the NHS e-RS at NHS Digital, said: “Hitting 100 million bookings is a major landmark for the NHS e-Referral Service.
“Coming off the back of the recent switch over to a fully electronic referral process for GP to consultant-led outpatient appointments, this really demonstrates that improved patient outcomes are fully at the heart of new digital technology.
“We now need to focus on expanding e-RS use so that it becomes the established way of making all referrals, ensuring that all patients all experience the same high-quality of referrals into NHS care.”
Dr Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer for health and care, said: “The NHS e-Referrals service works safely and quickly, not only improving safety and empowering patients but also saving the NHS money.
“This is an important milestone as we develop the long-term plan for the NHS, ensuring we are in a world leading position in using information technology to join up services, reduce errors, speed the adoption of new innovations, and give patients control over their own care.”
Dr Farah Jameel, BMA GP committee executive team IT lead, said: “The e-Referral Service, when used effectively, can be beneficial not only for patients, by giving them more control over their healthcare pathway, but also for GPs and the wider NHS by streamlining the whole referral process and offering a consistent approach across the health service.
“That 100 million bookings have been made shows that the public is embracing this system that offers more flexibility and can reduce time spent waiting for appointments. The guidance we developed with NHS England supports practices in outlining a number of ways they can use eRS to improve patient experience, as well as addressing some of the issues raised by our members.”