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National plan overlooks crucial pharmacy needs

Tony Collins

NHS national programme fails to address a key area, says drugs giant.

The head of the UK's biggest pharmaceutical distributor, and a supplier of systems to thousands of pharmacies, has said the NHS's £2.3bn national programme for IT has overlooked his company, his competitors and their customers.

Steve Dunn, group managing director of AAH Pharmaceuticals and chairman of the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers, has warned that the neglect of the IT needs of community pharmacists leaves a major gap in the NHS national programme.

It could also impede ministerial plans to give pharmacists some of the responsibilities of family doctors, and may undermine the government's portrayal of the national programme as an all-embracing IT-led modernisation of the NHS, said Dunn.

The government wants pharmacists to counsel some patients, be the first port of call for some of those with minor illnesses, manage repeat prescriptions and in some areas handle primary prescribing.

Dunn, who supplies systems to 4,000 hospital and community pharmacies, said he would have expected, at the minimum, that his firm be consulted over plans for the national programme. "We did not receive any invitations, no approaches from local service providers or anyone from the national programme," he said.

He also said his company and those in his association were unable to compete for contracts let by the national programme because of tendering criteria that required suppliers to bid for major chunks of NHS IT business.

Electronic prescribing is a key part of the national programme. But Dunn said this would not help pharmacies manage patients.

To fulfil the role the government sees for pharmacists, Dunn said their systems would need, for example, to link into electronic medical records, which are at the heart of the national programme.

"At the very least, somebody should be saying to us, 'What standards do your pharmacy systems operate on?' They have not taken soundings," said Dunn.

A spokesperson for the national programme said many companies that did not bid for the contracts to deliver national systems had become involved as sub-contractors. "This process has been supported through meetings facilitated by Intellect and the Confederation of British Industry, which engaged specific interest groups for SMEs.

"Key members of the national programme for IT have met with these groups frequently to discuss the current work of the national programme. The fact that a pharmaceutical organisation has not been directly involved in the national programme is, therefore, a matter for that pharmaceutical organisation."

Were enough clinicians consulted?       

Too few clinicians have been involved in the £2.3bn national programme for IT in the NHS, according to Steve Dunn, group managing director of AAH, the UK's largest pharmaceutical wholesaler. 

Dunn's company has a business relationship with almost every hospital in the UK, and he said the feedback he has had from clinicians was that they felt not enough of them were involved in drawing up plans for national systems. 

However, a spokesperson for the national programme said, "The assertion that there has been a lack of consultation with clinicians is substantively inaccurate."


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