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NHS Digital: ‘We are increasing the safety of electronic prescribing’

vishen ramkissen headshot


As a GP, you’re taught to act cautiously with controlled drugs. You have to cross-check prescribed dosages and ensure the medications are suitable for your patients. Getting it wrong can have devasting effects on a vulnerable patient.

This is where the benefits of a digital solution to prescribe controlled drugs was clear – we could be safer.

As a GP myself, I am delighted that using EPS for controlled drugs has now been introduced. It will mean prescriptions reach pharmacies faster, reducing the time medications take to reach patients – especially those receiving support for palliative and end-of-life care. This group of patients are a high priority for clinicians, to ensure they and their families are comfortable at such a difficult time. Helping patients in pain, especially those in palliative care, was a strong motivating factor for us to get this done once and done correctly.

But it wasn’t an easy path. We had to make some tough decisions about the way different IT system suppliers worked and had strict regulations to adhere to – progress at times was frustratingly slow. Throughout these obstacles, though, our approach always stemmed from putting the needs of our patients first. Our robust clinical governance meant we always understood the risks and benefits to both patients and the system.

The project has been a huge team effort, which has required working closely with all the prescribing and dispensing systems across England. We have worked tirelessly to ensure all the systems are clinically safe. We know that we can continue supporting any GP practice, issuing an electronic prescription to any pharmacy, so that the patient has the freedom to choose where they want to collect their prescription from. A freedom that every patient should have.

Getting it wrong can have devasting effects on a vulnerable patient

GPs will now be able to prescribe schedule two and three controlled drugs via EPS where the patient has a nominated pharmacy. This means pharmacies will receive these prescriptions electronically, avoiding unnecessary delays that patients or their pharmacy would endure, when having to collect paper prescriptions from the GP.

This is a significant achievement for NHS Digital, which will have a huge positive impact on patients and clinical colleagues. It will lessen the administrative burden on GP and pharmacy staff, improve security and fewer opportunities for errors. It will also build on the success of EPS, which now stands at over 30 million live EPS nominations and over 60 million EPS items processed in January this year.

Next up is Phase 4, which will enable EPS to become the default for prescribing, dispensing and reimbursement of prescriptions in primary care in England – upping the proportion of prescriptions sent electronically to around 95%. The current proportion is 64%.

I’m really looking forward to that chapter!

Dr Vishen Ramkisson is a GP in London, senior clinical lead at NHS Digital and clinical lead for the NHS’ Electronic Prescription Service