Pharmaceutical group Alliance UniChem is rolling out a managed broadband service to more than 3,000 independent pharmacies that it supplies in preparation for the launch of electronic prescriptions.
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The group's wholesale arm, UniChem, has already implemented the managed broadband service in the 939 stores owned by Alliance Pharmacy, the group's retail arm.
All the UK's 10,000 pharmacies will need a broadband service that connects to the National Health Service's N3 network before they are able to use electronic prescriptions.
UniChem's IT director, Anthony Roberts, said, "Independent pharmacists have not really focused on the importance of N3. If they do not have a network connection to N3, they will not be able to work around it when electronic prescriptions are introduced."
UniChem believes the move from paper to electronic prescriptions will allow it to deliver significant supply chain efficiencies when pharmacists begin using the managed broadband service to replenish their stores with UniChem products.
Pharmacists currently order replenishment stock from UniChem's 20,000 product lines twice every working day using ISDN lines. The combination of electronic prescriptions and broadband should speed up this process, said Roberts.
The broadband service, which will provide each pharmacy with a 2Mbyte connection, is managed by virtual network operator Sirocom.
The NHS will pay each pharmacy £200 a month if they have a broadband connection to the N3 network and UniChem will use a charging system based on the size of individual pharmacies for supplying the Sirocom network.
Alliance UniChem and rival pharmacy chain Boots expect to merge this June in a £7bn deal. The combined company, which will trade as Alliance Boots, will have about 2,400 stores in the UK.