The health service will move to paperless referrals by March 2015, the NHS Commissioning Board has announced.

The pledge, made in the board’s first ever planning blueprint, appears to fall short of promising to totally rid the NHS of paper by 2015 – an ambition outlined by the | board’s information chief Tim Kelsey in October.

The document, Everyone counts: planning for patients 2013-14, published today, says: “We will support commissioners to provide patients with access to digital tools to help them manage health and care as they choose and shall also support a move to paperless referrals in the NHS by March 2015 so that patients and carers can easily book appointments in primary and secondary care.”

In an interview with HSJ earlier this month, health secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted the NHS would not be “paperless” by 2015 and said he was still searching for an answer as to when that would be possible.

The pledge to eschew paper referrals follows ministers calling on the commissioning board to draw up plans for all patients to have an integrated electronic record and online access to their GP records by 2015 in November’s “mandate”.

The mandate, which set requirements for the commissioning board to deliver until March 2015, said: “The government expects that by March 2015 clear plans will be in place to enable secure linking of these electronic health and care records wherever they are held, so there is as complete a record as possible of the care someone receives.”