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Xrayser: The FMD has left me with a £600 paperweight on my counter

Xrayser rails against the NHS's backwards approach to technology

Our wholesaler driver arrived smiling, usually a worrying sign. “I'm super speedy this afternoon,” he announced. “The personal digital assistant scanner is bust, so we’re back to paperwork and it’s so much quicker!”

“He’s right,” I thought, as I considered all the electronic processes around me: the responsible pharmacist log, the fridge thermometer, our repeat prescription system, and as for the EPS – don’t get me started.

“Oh, thank God. They’ve done Mrs Smith’s repeat dispensing dosette scripts on paper,” said our pharmacy technician Jen. “It’s so much quicker to process than EPS repeat dispensing.” I’m left wondering what became of the paperless world that we were promised 20 years ago.

The technology enabling the NHS to send easily readable documents from one location to another with security is available, but it’s not in place, and so we continue to use paper FP10s. And we still send faxes, because it’s quicker and more practical to stick a piece of paper into a slot that unequivocally pops out at the recipient’s end than to amend or annotate pdf documents and send them via shared email accounts, to sit on a server unread.

The NHS is not really set up for technology. I was giving a talk to a stroke group this afternoon, and my leaving advice was “never assume anything happens automatically, the NHS administration is horrendous!”. This will only get worse.

Thousands of years of development meant slate and chalk eventually became paper and biros, because that proved the most effective and user-friendly visual communication device. Although the pace of development has since increased 1,000-fold, it seems the NHS has not understood the adoption of user-friendly technologies, like email and contactless payment. It seeks instead to use convoluted security systems that would impress MI6 yet are disproportionate to any true threat.

Talk of disproportionality brings me onto the emperor's new clothes that is the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD), the EU’s anti-counterfeit legislation requiring all pharmacies to scan barcodes on packaging at the point of dispensing. Regardless of hard or soft Brexit, how long will it be before a think group sums up the cost to the NHS of this pointless, ineffective, naval-gazing travesty and calculates how many patient lives could actually have been saved if that money had been spent on clinical care?

It beggars belief that NHS England and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee have allowed this to proceed at an individual pharmacy level, and yet I have had to buy a £600 paperweight with a scanner that sits uselessly in the corner of the dispensary, when all that was needed is a standard operating procedure that says “all drugs must be purchased from reputable approved wholesalers”.

You could even just write that on a piece of paper.

A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him @Xrayser


Pharmacy Dispenser/ Technician
Bethnal Green North, London
Salary: Up to £30,000

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