NHS Digital takes major step on road to universal electronic prescriptions

NHS e-Referral Service makes 100 millionth online booking

NHS Digital has launched a pilot in what is being called a major step on the road to universal electronic prescriptions. The pilot could see more than 95% of GP prescriptions processed electronically, saving the NHS time and money.

Until now, patients could only have their prescriptions processed electronically if they had chosen a regular ‘nominated’ dispenser, but the latest improvement to the Electronic Prescription Services, known as Phase 4, will allow prescriptions for all patients to be sent using the more efficient, digital system.

Eight GP practices across England are piloting Phase 4 of the EPS this year, followed by further practices in 2019. If the pilot is successful, the new functionality will be made available to all GP practices in England.

Patients do not need to worry about changes to the way they are prescribed medicines by their GP, or to how they request and collect medicines from their community pharmacy, as they will see very little or no change to how this works.

Patients without a nomination will still receive a paper copy listing what has been prescribed, but this will also contain a barcode that pharmacy staff will scan to download their electronic prescription from the secure NHS database – the NHS Spine. Patients with a nomination will still have their prescriptions sent electronically to their nominated pharmacy without needing a paper copy.

Electronic prescriptions reduce the amount of paper processing required by GPs, pharmacists and the NHS Business Services Authority estimate that they could save the NHS £300m a year once fully rolled out.

Benefits of EPS Phase 4

  • fewer paper prescriptions will result in a more efficient, faster and secure process, saving the NHS time and money
  • an electronic system means prescriptions can’t be lost and GPs don’t need to sign replacements
  • clinicians will be able to keep track of the progress and status of prescriptions using the EPS Prescription Tracker.

Dr John Hampson, GP at Tower Family Healthcare in Bury, one of the first pilot sites and Clinical Lead for Information Technology at Bury CCG said: “I took part in the original EPS pilot and so it is fantastic to reach a point where it is available to all patients, even if they don’t use a regular pharmacy. This has really improved our prescribing process, making it more secure and much more efficient.

“It also allows me to save valuable time by not having to sign replacement prescriptions when they are lost or damaged. Because the prescription is signed digitally, a paper copy can be reprinted by any member of my team. This is more convenient and reassuring for my patients as they can get a replacement quickly and easily.”

Ian Lowry, Director for Digital Medicines and Pharmacies at NHS Digital, said: “The launch of this pilot is excellent news for GPs, pharmacists and patients and is a further important step towards the digital future for NHS prescribing and dispensing.”

“Every single prescription that is sent electronically, rather than via paper, saves money for the NHS as less time and valuable resource is spent processing and storing the paper prescriptions.”

Farhan Ali, Pharmacist Manager at LloydsPharmacy in Ramsbottom, one of the first community pharmacies to dispense a Phase 4 prescription, said: “The introduction of Phase 4 is a welcome development and the pilot has gone very well for us so far. We’re only a few days in and are already seeing the positive impact, both on the way our team works and on patient experience.

“With more prescriptions going electronic, more are available to view on the EPS tracker. This means we can track and locate more prescriptions quickly and easily, without having to spend valuable time calling the surgery to query a prescription’s status or whereabouts.

“We’ll also save time at the end of every month when my team spend hours collating, counting, processing and posting paper prescriptions. Fewer paper prescriptions means less admin work and more time made available for us as pharmacy professionals to spend on what’s important – treating and supporting patients.”

Keith Farrar, Senior Responsible Owner for Digital Medicines at NHS England, said: “The electronic prescription service is already reducing the NHS administrative burden whilst improving patient care, and this latest development is another step towards a more efficient digital NHS.

“As the NHS develops its long term plan we will be increasingly looking to new technology like this to drive improvements in patient care and improve our efficiency.”