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GPC warns against hurried rollout of electronic prescription service

The GPC and leading pharmacists have warned against surging ahead with the rollout of the electronic prescription service (EPS) before ongoing issues have been addressed.

Both the GPC and Pharmacy Voice, a lobby group comprised of the three largest community pharmacist organisations, have called on the Department of Health to exercise caution after its announcement last week that the EPS rollout is restarting.

Concerns include question marks over the safety of rolling the system out under the stated timescale and whether some PCTs are realistically in a position to go ahead with electronic prescriptions.

It comes after a recent evaluation of the EPS R2 system, launched in 2007, found that electronic prescribing in the NHS will stall unless GPs are offered financial support to ease the additional workload from implementing the new system.

Dr Bill Beeby, chair of the GPC's clinical and prescribing subcommittee, said safety needed to be paramount and urged the DH not to rush through a blanket rollout.

‘Although the paper system is far from perfect, it is well understood,' he said. ‘Electronic prescriptions are less tangible and they need to be introduced with caution rather than enthusiasm.'

He added that problems may occur if repeat prescribing systems are not in harmony with the electronic workflows: ‘Mistakes may happen faster, without the opportunity for a second look at what is being prescribed before it gets to the pharmacy.

‘Safety needs to be the primary concern, not rushing through any implementation or rollout programme.'

Martin Strange, Pharmacy Voice IT group chair, said experience from early adopter sites showed there were substantial issues yet to be resolved on the ground before a general rollout should be contemplated.

‘Electronic prescriptions are undoubtedly the future, yet we must proceed with the appropriate caution,' he said. ‘At the very least, robust criteria should be stipulated for approval of any new PCTs.'

He said ensuring smartcard processes are fit for purpose and working well in practice were among the issues that needed to be resolved, as there have been concerns around the whether the current smartcard policy is workable in busy pharmacies.

‘It also makes sense that rollout should not be approved in PCT areas where only a small proportion of GPs are ready to go,' he added. ‘Meanwhile, more work is required at a national level to assure business continuity.'

He said that when glitches occur, pharmacists could be made to look deficient even though they are not at fault: ‘The patient would be left drumming his fingers on our counters – of course he'll blame the pharmacy.'

The calls for delaying the rollout of EPS follow an interim evaluation report published earlier this month showing while there had been progress in EPS implementation, significant improvements still needed to be made.

Researchers from University College London, the University of Nottingham and London School of Economics also highlighted that adoption by GPs is likely to be the rate-limiting step in further rollout.