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Pharmacy First IT updates: Pharmacists to have greater GP records access

Pharmacists will have greater access to GP records and be able to receive urgent referrals digitally under the new Pharmacy First service launching next year. 

Pharmacists will have access to GP patient records through GP Connect as part of Pharmacy First, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) revealed last week.

The news came as part of announcements about the long-awaited details of the primary care recovery plan reforms last week (November 16), including the launch of the new Pharmacy First service from “early next year”.

In a briefing about the reforms attended by C+D, CPE director of NHS services Alastair Buxton said that pharmacists will be able to access “more information than is currently available in the national care record service (NCRS)” through the GP Connect system.

But he stressed that “pharmacies will continue to have access to [NCRS] as well”.

It remains unclear whether this new GP records access will be available to all pharmacies or only those signed up to deliver the new advanced service.


Pharmacists to update GP records?


In a joint letter to contractors, CPE, NHS England (NHSE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) revealed that “from the launch” of Pharmacy First, contractors will “have access to more parts of the GP record” such as medications, observations and investigations.

It added that the government is also investing in IT updates to “improve how GP records are updated following the provision of pharmacy services”.

Mr Buxton said that the ability for pharmacists to write into the GP record was “being developed”, but it also remains unclear whether this will be available in time for the launch of the Pharmacy First service or a future development, with records read-only from the outset.

In February, the health and social care committee's (HSCC) expert panel rated the government’s progress on pharmacy access to patient records “inadequate”.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) 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.


Digital referrals


The letter also set out that pharmacists will also be able to use a new “Pharmacy First consultation record to capture” consultations under the service, it said.

This record will “send automatic structured updates to the GP record and to the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) to support payments and reporting on the service”, it added.

The letter said that the bodies are “working with NHS Pathways to develop the clinical triage system” that will send electronic referrals to pharmacies from NHS 111 and emergency care for the seven conditions covered by the service that would otherwise have gone to a GP practice.

They are also working with existing IT suppliers to “streamline referrals from GPs”, including by moving away from the NHSmail system, it added.


Unlikely to be ready by December


And the letter said that all pharmacy IT system suppliers “currently assured” for the community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS) – which will be absorbed into the Pharmacy First service – the blood pressure check service and the contraception service will update their clinical systems.

Last week’s announcement included the expansion of the pharmacy contraception and blood pressure check services from next month as well as the launch of Pharmacy First from “early next year”.

But in CPE’s briefing, Mr Buxton said that the negotiator is “not expecting any IT systems to be ready by December frankly”, adding that he suspected it would be January before digital developments are complete.

CPE added that during negotiations, it was “clear that IT systems must be in place ahead of service launches”.

But it said that the new systems were a “significant step forward that will support the future development of community pharmacy services”.

The IT developments will “[pave] the way in the future for commissioning a wider range of clinical services at neighbourhood, place, integrated care board (ICB) and national level”, according to the joint letter.

It comes as GP chiefs this week said that pharmacists are “not a substitute” for GPs in the wake of the long-awaited announcement of the new Pharmacy First common ailments service.

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