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Pharmacy First GP IT updates could still be weeks away

Pharmacy First GP IT updates could still be weeks away

IT updates that will enable pharmacists to send automatic updates into GP records could still be weeks away, it has emerged.

The news comes nearly a month after the Pharmacy First service, which sees community pharmacists consult and prescribe for seven common conditions, was launched.

During this time, GPs have received updates on consultations via NHSmail or hard copy, which they have had to manually add to patient records.

The GP Connect functionality which will enable pharmacists to add to GP records with ‘one click’ was originally due to be live in time for the Pharmacy First launch on 31 January 2024.

At that time, NHS England said systems would be ready from February 2024 but there has now been a further delay.

Speaking via a live video link at the Sigma conference today, chief pharmaceutical officer (CPhO) for England David Webb suggested the functionality would not be ready until next month at the earliest.

He said that community pharmacy Pharmacy First updates displaying clinical pathways and payments were live, but that the updates allowing practice staff to ‘more easily review the Pharmacy First consultation outcomes and add the information to the patient record with one click of a button’ were not.

‘These changes will ultimately be rolled out through GP clinical system suppliers in the next few weeks,’ he said.

NHS England had previously suggested that it was not confident IT solutions would be in place for the planned 31 January rollout of Pharmacy First.

NHS England chief information officer John Quinn said in December that the scheme will operate in ‘a complex environment’ with ‘multiple suppliers and a fixed time scale’.

And chief executive of Community Pharmacy England (CPE) revealed last week that ‘in order to go live [with Pharmacy First] at the date ministers wanted it, we agreed a minimum viable product [for the IT].’

Community pharmacies in England are now able to supply treatment – including antibiotics where clinically appropriate – for sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women, under a nationally-commissioned patient group direction (PGD).

In all, 10,265 community pharmacies are offering the service, while NHS England said 5,367 have now also signed up to offer the NHS Pharmacy Contraception Service which launched last year.

But some pharmacies may not be offering consultations or treatment for otitis media (earache) until 1 April as NHSE allowed them to delay that part of the service if they had ordered otoscope equipment that had not yet arrived.

GPs had previously raised concerns around unintended workload consequences from having to check record updates made under the scheme.

And as the scheme launched a number of GPs raised concerns, including some pharmacies reportedly directing patients back to general practice due to capacity issues or due to lacking necessary skills or equipment.

NHS England launched a campaign to raise public awareness of Pharmacy First last week (19 February), including adverts on TV and radio, bus stop advertising and billboards.

How GP patient records should be updated under the Pharmacy First scheme

The pharmacy contractor will ensure that a notification of the provision of the service is sent to the patient’s GP practice on the day of provision or on the following working day, according to NHS England’s service specification.

Where possible, this should be sent as ‘a structured message in real-time’ via the NHS assured Pharmacy First IT system, but in absence of an automated digital solution or if there is a temporary problem with the system, this should be sent via NHSmail or hard copy.

The specification also clarified that GP Connect Update Record ‘will provide the functionality to automatically update a patient’s GP medical record’ – but this is the functionality which has yet to go live.

Pharmacists will send an action message or alternative form of an ‘urgent action’ communication to the practice, where an action is required by the GP team, such as booking the patient in for a follow up or appointment.

If a problem occurs with the electronic notification system, the pharmacy contractor will need ensure a copy of the paperwork is sent or emailed to the general practice.

A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title The Pharmacist


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Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

David Church 27 February, 2024 7:18 pm

Sounds like another great way to increase workload burden of GPs as admin clerks, whilst shifting money away from GP surgeries – in this case to prop up Pharmacies struggling because of other non-sensical policy and funding chnages

David Church 27 February, 2024 7:20 pm

I thought the mantra was for NHS to learn from “successful private business models” – The first thing private business would say is that ” we are not doing that nor paying for it until after you sort it out properly”