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HSCC blasts ‘inadequate’ government progress on pharmacy records access

The government’s progress on pharmacy access to patient records has been rated “inadequate” by an expert panel.

The panel, commissioned by the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC), last week (February 17) published an evaluation of commitments made by the government on the digitisation of the NHS.

It found that the government’s commitment to make shared care records available to pharmacies and other care settings is “far from being on track”.

This comes despite “widespread support” for a single health and care record and some steps towards rolling out a “basic” shared care record, it said.

Read more: GPhC: Essential that pharmacists get read-write access to patients’ records

Several groups giving evidence said there were “significant problems” that meant the commitment for all patients to have an integrated care record across health and social care by 2024 was likely to be “too ambitious”, it added.

"Overall, we have rated the Government’s progress on delivering this commitment as ‘inadequate’,” the report concluded.


“Lack of focus” and interoperability


One key issue is a “lack of common standards” that has “hindered interoperability”, the expert panel said.

It pointed to evidence from the National Community Pharmacy IT Group about how the lack of interoperability had “prevented community pharmacy onboarding with integrated care records”.

Read more: Online pharmacies: Coroner flags ‘lack of integrated records’ after patient ‘overdose’

Expert panel members had also heard from the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), which criticised the “lack of focus” on the commitment to ensure pharmacists can access and write in patient records.

The General Pharmaceutical Council has previously warned that there are “serious risks” if patient records are not shared with all healthcare professionals and that it is vital that pharmacists have read-write access.


Repeat prescriptions


Meanwhile, the NHS App also came under criticism in the report due to lack of integration with other systems.

The use of multiple apps and digital systems could “make it confusing” for patients who end up with several options for accessing the same online services, it said.

Read more: NHS ‘working through constraints’ to enable online pharmacy nominations on app

The NHS App is “not always well integrated” with other systems used by GP practices, hospitals and in community settings such as pharmacies, which can prevent its use to manage hospital appointments and repeat prescriptions, the report added.

Online pharmacy Pharmacy2U had told the expert panel that “limitations in functionality” meant customers could not get reminders about repeat prescriptions, it said.

NHS Digital told the panel that two million repeat prescriptions were ordered via the NHS App in September 2022.

Read more: EPS now 'default' as almost 1bn items dispensed electronically in 2021/22

However, with 410 million repeat prescriptions every year, this suggests that the proportion of repeat prescriptions ordered via the app is considerably lower than those ordered in other ways, the committee said.

There also “appears to be no coherent policy and no specific funding to support the continued rollout of the NHS App”, the panel said, despite a target for 75% of the population to be registered by 2024.


“Too slow”


“Although we recognise the significant progress made in the area of digitisation in the health and care system, we conclude that some key commitments have not been met or are not on track to be met,” the panel concluded.

“Much of the evidence we heard indicated that progress towards national standards and frameworks within the NHS is happening but is too slow overall.”

It added that the move to delegate responsibility for NHS digitisation to integrated care systems “without clear expectations for delivery” risks increasing variability around the country, as does requiring them to bid for extra money for digital projects.

Meanwhile, there is a “lack of effective plans” to prevent the digital exclusion of some groups, which could negatively affect their health and care, the panel found.

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