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GPs 'need incentives' to use electronic prescription service

The rollout of electronic prescribing in the NHS will stall unless GPs are offered financial support to offset the extra workload in implementing the new system, researchers warn.

The first evaluation of the new EPS R2 system – launched in 2007 - found last year only 10 GP practices were using the new service to send electronic prescriptions to pharmacies.

The latest figures from the DH indicate this has increased to 243 practices, but the researchers said take-up was being affected by the ‘time-consuming activities' are needed to set up the service.

The EPS R2 system allows GPs to send a prescription electronically to a pharmacy chosen by the patient and allows them to digitally authorise bundles of repeat prescriptions.

But the interim report, commissioned on behalf of NHS Connecting for Health Evaluation programme, found GPs needed training to use the new software and it took time for them to encourage patients to nominate a pharmacy to receive their medicine and adjust to the new system.

This meant that although the system was proving popular with pharmacists, most GPs who had signed up the new system were not making use of it.

And researchers at the UCL School of Pharmacy who led the report said that if the NHS wanted to see the system gain momentum and be rolled out in practices across the country ‘a carefully presented message and some incentives' are needed.

‘Given the relative importance of GPs in the adoption process the QOF may be one place to locate such incentives,' the report said.

When they evaluated four practices, they found the new system did speed up the prescribing process with some prescriptions taking around seven seconds to sign compared to around 29 seconds to sign paper prescriptions. 

Although at one practice the trend was reversed with the paper prescription taking on average 13 seconds to sign per item, and the electronic prescription 24 seconds.

The authors concluded that although the NHS has an EPS that ‘works', there are still a number of issues to be resolved.

They concluded: ‘The challenge now is to drive widespread adoption during a period of enormous organisational change within primary care in the NHS.

‘In our view it is likely that some form of national support and local incentive structures will need to be in place if EPS is to overcome these challenges and deliver the benefits to the NHS as a whole which can be expected to result from widespread rollout.'

Dr David Wrigley, a GP in Lancashire and member of the BMA GPC committee told Pulse that although he thought the project was ‘extremely valuable', the Department of Health clearly needed to ‘open a dialogue' with GPs.

He said: ‘We need to know what the work load implication will be for GPs so it doesn't add any extra work as GPs are already bursting at the seams.'

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