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The NHS expects to achieve £300m in savings by 2021 following the national roll-out of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS).
The fourth and final stage of the implementation starts on 18 November as part of a wider overhaul of prescriptions in England. The last phase of the programme follows a pilot of the TPP SystmOne platform, which successfully dispensed 329,000 prescriptions and involved 60 GP practices and 3,100 pharmacies.
Implementation will continue into 2020 with other system suppliers, while Clinical Commissioning Groups will manage the roll-out in their own areas with support from NHS Digital and the NHS Business Services Authority.
“[EPS] is another important step towards eventually making all prescriptions paperless. We are continuing to improve technology across the NHS, which will ultimately improve care for patients,” said primary care minister, Jo Churchill.
EPS is intended to enable GPs and pharmacists to prescribe and dispense medicines more efficiently and to make it easier for patients to pick up repeat prescriptions. The ability to order repeat prescriptions, which also allows regular medicines to be prescribed in batches of up to a year, was also one of the features the NHS identified patients wanted during a pilot for the NHS App.
Part of the NHS Long-Term Plan efficiency drive, the roll-out is also intended to reduce the amount of paper processing and storage required, as well as the number of prescribing errors. Prescribers will also be able to digitally sign and cancel electronic prescriptions, rather than using a physical signature.
“The system is also safer and more secure, as prescriptions can’t be lost and clinicians can check their status online,” said director of digital medicines and pharmacy at NHS Digital, Ian Lowry.
Prescriptions will continue to be sent directly to pharmacies patients have nominated, and 32 million people have already done so. Nominations enable individuals to collect their medicines or appliances without having to hand in a paper prescription.
Barcodes on printed prescriptions will enable patients to retrieve medication details from the NHS Spine database when a pharmacy hasn’t been nominated. This is intended to provide flexibility, enabling patients to get what they need in any pharmacy.
Patients who do not wish to nominate a pharmacy will still receive a paper copy of their prescription. According to the Department of Health & Social Care, physical prescriptions will still be used occasionally “in exceptional circumstances”, but the aim is to get nearly all prescriptions on EPS.
As the final phase of the roll-out progresses, NHS Digital and the NHS Business Services Authority will continue to work with prescribers and dispensers to promote use of electronic prescriptions and promote best practice.
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