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Pharmacy First: Pharmacies stuck with ‘cumbersome’ IT systems for ‘weeks’

Pharmacies are still unable to fully access GP records, despite Pharmacy First launching yesterday, the pharmacy minister has admitted.  

Pharmacy minister Andrea Leadsom yesterday (January 31) confirmed that pharmacies still do not have full access to automated GP records, despite the new Pharmacy First service launching yesterday.

In November, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said that through the new service, pharmacies would have access to and be able to update GP records via GP Connect.

But Dame Andrea said in parliament yesterday that “there is a very short window in which some systems will have elements of manual intervention”.

She added that the automated software will be ready in “a few weeks” and will “provide the ability to inquire into GP records and to swap advice, which is important for pharmacists”.

Last week (January 25), CPE also admitted that the “enhanced access to GP records” is still “being added to pharmacy clinical services IT systems” and would be available “within a few weeks of launch”.

Previously, it had said that “from the launch” of Pharmacy First, contractors will “have access to more parts of the GP record” such as medications, observations and investigations.


“Cumbersome” alternatives despite year to prepare


Dame Andrea admitted there were delays to Pharmacy First IT systems after shadow pharmacy minister Preet Kaur Gill asked her a question about the digital integration of the service and pharmacist access to GP Connect.

“The government has had 12 months to get that ready, but from what I am hearing this morning it is still not live”, Ms Kaur Gill said.

She added that pharmacists have told her “that they can access only a summary of GP records [and] that they have to use another system to input what they have prescribed”.

“They then have to download that and email it across to the GP - that is cumbersome”, she said.


First day of services 


Meanwhile, pharmacists took to social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to discuss their experiences of the first day of the new service.

Independent pharmacy contractor Mike Hewitson said yesterday (January 31) that he completed his first consultation under the new service “ten mins before closing time”. 

“Nothing groundbreaking, emergency supply, but you've got to start somewhere”, he added.

Responding to Mr Hewitson, community pharmacist Paul Knapton said that he had undertaken three yesterday, the first being “a GP referral at 9am” when the practice had “no appointments left”.

He added that the two other consultations were “walk-ins” and all were regarding problems he “felt confident dealing with, the kind of consultation where previously you'd see a patient and know what script they were going to return with”.


GPs not referring patients “yet”


And GPs have also been sharing their thoughts on Pharmacy First via social media.

Yesterday, chief executive of Doncaster local medical committee (LMC) Dr Dean Eggitt tweeted that at his “practice team huddle” that morning, his team “decided not to refer patients to the Pharmacy First scheme...yet”.

“This scheme will have teething issues and will need time before it runs smoothly”, he added. 

Dr Eggitt said that “it's important for all of us that this is positive and successful”.

And one pharmacy technician working in a GP practice added that their surgery was taking the same approach.

There is “no point [in] overwhelming pharmacies and vice versa GP surgeries without sorting out any issues or concerns”, he said.

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