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IT chaos left 3/4 of pharmacies unable to complete Pharmacy First consultations

Over a third of respondents to a C+D snapshot poll said that IT problems stopped them from completing “more than 10” Pharmacy First consultations.  

Earlier this month, contractors were left unable to complete Pharmacy First consultations when IT provider PharmOutcomes updated its security system and kicked users off the site.

Last week, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said that the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) believed that suppliers had “resolved [the] issues”.

But a C+D snapshot poll, which ran between March 21 and March 24, found that most pharmacies were unable to complete Pharmacy First consultations due to the tech problems.

Of the 133 respondents, 37% said that their pharmacy was prevented from completing “more than 10” consultations due to IT issues with PharmOutcomes.

A further 11% said they couldn’t complete six to 10 consultations and 29% said they couldn’t complete between one and five consultations while experiencing tech issues.

Only 24% said “none” had been affected, meaning a staggering 76% of respondents’ pharmacies couldn’t carry out some Pharmacy First consultations due to problems with PharmOutcomes.

A spokesperson for PharmOutcomes’ parent company EMIS said that it “added extra resource to assist pharmacies as they adapt” to its updated security measures.


“Muddling through” with pen and paper


Pharmacists told C+D that without a functioning IT system, they had to choose between offering “unprofessional” consultations and turning patients away.

Yesterday (March 25), pharmacist Ben Merriman said that during the IT problems his team “quite literally muddled through as [they] had patients that needed [their] help”.

“It's a newly commissioned service and we didn't feel able to turn people away because of an IT issue - we're all so keen to make this service work, not only for our patients but for the sector,” he added.

Reacting to C+D’s poll data, he said that “it's perfectly understandable that pharmacists new to the supply of antibiotics…could be reluctant to complete a transaction without the IT framework”.

Contractor Mark Bartley also told C+D yesterday that “on average, [his] branches had to perform around 25% of their consultations on paper” while systems were down.

He said reverting to paper was “quite frustrating” as “it does not appear professional”.

“Some of our branches have had to turn people away as they were unable to perform the consultation effectively,” he added.

Pharmacists also raised concerns on social media about how the tech issues would impact patients last week.

One commenter said that the tech issues had caused a “very dangerous situation”.

“[Pharmacists] could be missing some seriously ill patients,” they added. 


“Extremely problematic”


CPE chief executive Janet Morrison said that the “Pharmacy First IT issues witnessed this month were extremely problematic”.

“Not only were they incredibly stressful and time-consuming for pharmacy teams, but the impact they had on both providers and patients is also extremely concerning,” she added.

And she stressed that the “combination of separate IT system issues...put severe pressure and uncertainty on pharmacy owners”.

Read more: UPDATED: Pharmacy First fee claim deadline delayed again over IT issues

CPE will work with the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) and NHS England (NHSE) to “review service data to understand exactly what impact there has been on target consultations and wider confidence in the service”, Morrison said.

“We will argue for any actions needed to mitigate this impact,” she added.

A spokesperson for PharmOutcomes’ parent company EMIS said that it “regularly” updates security measures and “recently took proactive steps to further protect” its systems.

They added that the company “added extra resource to assist pharmacies as they adapt to the changes” and encouraged those “experiencing issues” to contact its support line”.


Extended deadlines 


Meanwhile, the NHSBSA moved the deadline for February Pharmacy First consultation claims for the third time last week.

“[The] NHSBSA has confirmed that pharmacy owners who submit their February declaration by the revised deadline, will receive their Pharmacy First payment on 1st May 2024 as expected”, CPE said.

The deadline extensions came after the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) warned that the NHS Manage Your Service (MYS) portal was “flawed” after pharmacies flagged that it “failed to report correct figures” for the number of Pharmacy First consultations delivered.

It said that the discrepancies could leave contractors “out of pocket” by “thousands of pounds”.


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