Fax machines

At the end of this month — March 2020 — the UK’s National Health Service will stop using fax machines. By order.

I wonder if your first thought was: “Well, that will improve patient confidentiality and security”?

Wasn’t mine. My first thought was: “The NHS is still using fax machines?”

Almost 9,000 of the things.

Staff are being instructed to replaced this “outdated technology” with more modern communication methods. I remember when this technology was very much indated. The fax was the burning white heat of innovation… but surprisingly older than you might think.

The Scottish serial inventor Alexander Bain came up with the first “facsimile” machine in 1842, using a mix of clocks and electrochemically sensitive paper (and, possibly, fairy dust).

After technological improvements on the original clocks, fax machines became ubiquitous in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a little like sending a letter down the telephone wire (ie: magic).

In announcing the ban, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Everywhere else got rid of them years ago.”

Oh? Try telling that to the Canadians.

Or the Japanese.

Truth is, not everyone has a fax machine any more but, for now, the fax still holds its place on the communications spectrum. When a care home or a pharmacy needs a signature or a prescription, a fax may be quicker, cheaper, more convenient, and more familiar than attempting to send then decipher encrypted emails. Besides, no-one ever tried to sell your fax to Google, unlike your other health records.


Younger readers may wonder what the F is for.

2 thoughts on “Fax machines

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