#shanenaz

We're doing it again! This time we are biking from Petra in Jordan up to Nazareth in Israel, to raise money for the Nazareth Hospital Dialysis Unit. Last year we raised over £50,000 for the Children's Unit! Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel; the people are lovely, and the kids are awesome. Nazareth also treats kids in the West Bank of Palestine who have very limited access to healthcare. They need your help! Go to my sponsorship page to find out more and see what you can do! Maybe even join us..? http://justgiving.com/shanenaz

20 September 2011

GOD HATES FAX.

I hate fax machines. It's a deep-seated visceral loathing of a technology that is decades past its use-by (not best-before) date - a technology that is still considered (in departmental policies at least) an acceptable way of transmitting confidential information from one point to another. Consider this.
Today in our office (I work in a busy Genetic Medicine Department, and we get barrow-loads of correspondence relating to our patients every day) the fax machine broke. It's a venerable old thing, but it has now entered the realm of permapaperjam and refuses all my obsequies and pleas to unfeckingjam itself. This is bad enough, but we're awaiting an important test result from an external lab, and the external lab won't email us the report; their policy is that it can only be sent by post or by fax.
Why won't they email? Well, their policy is that they will only email to addresses ending in nhs.uk, so the fact that the Northern Ireland NHS email system ends in hscni.net is a Big Deal. We, apparently, are off the grid.
So the only way to get the result is via this useless obsolete chunk of dead beige plastic that can't even do its primary job. We have a problem, and the problem is that policies don't change very well.
Now, this is 2011. We have motorised vehicles and computational devices and electrical hand dryers and soap and stuff. We even have Pot Noodle. What in the name of all that is holy are we doing, relying on ancient insecure unreliable user-unfriendly hackable useless trash like fax machines? There are better ways of doing this - encrypted file attachments is one. Secure server download is another (and these are potentially properly auditable - calm your quaking desire, O box-tickers).
But the NHS, bless its socks, still seems to operate on the principle that sending a series of beeps across a phone line in the hope that you're connecting with a non-hacked (thank you, Mr Murdoch) machine on the other end, relying on no paper-jams and proper scanning of the feed sheets and the person manning the receiving machine being of near-average intelligence is the way to go.
End this insanity. Destroy these machines. Outlaw the fax. Join the 21st Century.

22 comments:

  1. Spot on. The first time I saw a fax machine I thought it was a pretty neat idea. However they shouldn't have survived a week beyond the introduction of email in any organisation. They have no redeeming features.

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  2. An excellent piece sir! Hear hear!

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  3. Realising we'd spent all of Monday sitting in a leaking semi-abandoned building with nothing to do except update Facebook and read blogs, our IT manager decided to send us around the hospital evangelising the good news of nhs.net email accounts.

    It made me appreciate what it would be like to be a Jehovah's Witness, interrupting busy people with annoying questions about something they see as peripheral, except without anyone expecting you to have shaved recently or ironed your shirt. (We are technically IT staff after all, and must adhere to the dress code.) We even had tracts to give out.

    So why is it you can't get nhs.net emails in NI?

    On a related note, perhaps motivated people could routinely start sending forged faxes with obviously false information just to prove the point, i.e. a convincing-looking fax asking for a patient born in 2039 to be admitted to the psionics clinic and referred by Dr Zeuss.

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  4. You can always use telex. The BT telex network was turned off in 2008, but there still ways of accessing the global telex network by other means. Proven since the 1920s.

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  5. What a crazy machine...
    I agree with Mr Dart - bring on the forged faxes!

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  6. Apparently you can get paperless fax machines which can receive your hackable beeps and turn them into some sort of image file. That would solve one of your many problems.

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  7. Ah, but that is just prolonging the life of a technology that should *die*!! :-)

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  8. I hacked the system - when some institution required "fax number" to inform me about something, I went online and got a "virtual fax" and it lands in my email inbox as a PDF :)

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  9. It's not the NHS as a whole.
    Try asking them to get a NHS.net account. They can send end to end encrypted email to other NHS.net accounts, and also have the facility to have a secure file download area.

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  10. Forfeckssake 15 years ago I retired our office FAX machine and replaced it with a PC with a modem and winfax (that could also be used as a general purpose PC). Even then that was a bit olde worlde but it was a dozen times better than using a bloody manual FAX.
    As Hubert says nowadays you don't even need that.

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  11. Couldn't agree more about faxes. I always tried to sub-contract the sending of faxes to anyone who could be bribed with chocolate! I think I might have sent 5 of them in my 27 years at work and each time I wondered whether the damn thing had arrived where I intended it to go.

    But on another point I really have to ask a question. If the .nhs.uk domain name is alright for the rest of the UK, why on earth has the Northern Irish NHS got to be different?

    We see this sort of nonsense happening in Scotland and Wales too. It is just a political statement that "we're not English" and it really isn't necessary. Sorry you have to suffer the consequences of the local form of appeasement to political correctness.

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  12. I have to exchange information with primary care trusts and GP surgeries two or three times a week. We don't often get data from the same GP twice, so each transaction starts with me calling the GP and asking for their secure email address. 10 months in, I don't think I've ever had one of these conversations in which they didn't reply "can you fax it?". Quite often, even telling them that the policies of both my organisation and theirs prohibit sending information by fax doesn't help! At that point, I usually tell them we don't have a fax machine.

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  13. Fax can (and perhaps should) go over the internet. See http://www.voip-info.org/wiki/view/T.38

    There are advantages: you get a good copy, it can't jam, no trees need die, you can turn it into an email attachment easily enough… and numpty security people can't tell you're doing it.

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  14. @Plasma engineer
    I think it has less to do with NI being not English, and more to do with NI not being in the United Kingdom (check the long winded title on your passport). Although the stupidity of the initial problem is not aided my this fact.

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  15. @sasori Yes - unlike many people I do understand the difference between UK and GB without having to read my passport. If only everyone in UK could choose to either celebrate it or get out of it though. (That includes the English if we ever had an option.)

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  16. @sasori - Northern Ireland is in the United Kingdom, it's just not in Great Britain, hence:

    "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland"

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  17. @ yea-mon - it depends which parts of Northern Ireland though. I dare you to walk down the Falls Road with a banner saying that.

    (Actually I don't dare you. But you get my point.)

    You are exactly right about the UK or GB divide.

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  18. @Plasma Engineer

    True as to the likely public reaction in some parts of Ulsta, my hometown included, but de facto and de jure NI is part of the UK.

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  19. Hi folks, sorry for the hiatus! In NI we can't get nhs.net email addresses - we have our own hscni.net domain. Goodness knows why. Of course NI is part of the UK (until we democratically decide otherwise :-), but GB is the big island to the right of Ireland, not a country per se. Not a massive appetite for a united Ireland at present, other than a vague aspiration (which I share, alongside a much closer rapprochement between our islands). But that's by the by. I still hate faxes...

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  20. I work for the Health Protection Agency, in England. Our domain is hpa.org.uk. We are allowed to send 'patient identifiable information' (PII) by fax or to other @hpa.org.uk email addresses. But not to or from nhs.uk ones. I've been trying for years to persuade them to use email to fax (& vice versa). No such luck despite obvious advantages, not least security.

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  21. Thanks Pete - it's almost as if they believe that fax is some sort of magical safe channel. I can't imagine your head of IT is any younger than, say, 60..?

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  22. This needed to be said, and for some baffling reason STILL needs to be said. When will it stop?

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