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Countdown begins to place barcode scanners in all pharmacies

Martin Sawer: New system may not be in place until late 2018

New EU legislation means pharmacists will have to scan all medicines at the point of dispensing from February 2019, says wholesaling representative Martin Sawer

Contractors face a three-year deadline to install barcode scanners into their pharmacies as part of European anti-counterfeiting measures.

EU legislation requiring pharmacists to scan medicines at the point of dispensing was published last week (February 9), setting the clock ticking to introduce new systems in every member state by February 2019. 

UK wholesalers organisation the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) said the scanning system – designed to ensure all medicines dispensed are authentic – is unlikely to work until late 2018 at the earliest.

The new legislation requires pharmacies to train staff and install scanners, while manufacturers will have to put new bar codes on their medicine packs, HDA executive director Martin Sawer told C+D last week (February 10).

IT systems suppliers will also need to provide pharmacists with new scanning software, he said.

Similar to existing scanners

The new scanners will be similar to technology pharmacists already use, Mr Sawer stressed. This is because the barcodes that manufacturers will include on packs of medicines will resemble Quick Response (QR) codes, which can be read by existing retail scanners, he said.

"It will be the same type of equipment, just connected to a different IT base," he said.

It is likely the scanning systems will be piloted before they are rolled out across all UK pharmacies, Mr Sawer added.

Mr Sawer stressed it is “good news” that the legislation – which was originally due to be published in 2014 has “finally” been published because it will create a "credible and sustainable" solution to securing the European medicines supply chain.


Do you think the new EU rules will improve the service you offer patients?

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Imran Anwar, Superintendent Pharmacist

I wonder which minister has a share in the barcode scanners/software world... 

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Finally community pharmacy will now be no more than working on a till at a supermarket. But I think supermarket cashiers will soon be paid more with superior terms and conditions.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Just think, by 2020 the minimum wage will be £9 an hour, and probably £10 for community pharmacists! 

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

I'm with Brian - what happens when the lights go out?


John Willetts, Locum pharmacist

What happens with owings? Or when the Dr prescribes say, 23 tablets ? Or even just 7?  Or pts who come in every day for one day's supply. All these go in white boxes........?  Methadone dailys?

Or, as already pointed out when the PC konks out / won't boot up/

What about specials that are purchased in etc etc

No wonder they need 3+ years to iron out these wrinkles......!

Susan M Shepherd, Community pharmacist

In order to implement this, we must go to complete patient pack dispensing as they do on the continent. The prescriber will no longer be able to specify the exact number of tablets etc, only the nmber of packs to be supplied or the dose plus treatment period and leave it to the pharmacy to calculate the number of packs.

The system must be able to cope with anomalies, where the pack sizes supplied do not exactly match the indicated quantity.

I'd be interested to know the volume of dispensing put through the pharmacies using this system in the test sites. What volume were they able to put through a single scanner? In the wonderful world of pharmacy after the cuts come in there are going to be fewer pharmacies doing much higher script volumes. Can the proposed IT cope with this? Can it  identify the same bar code being read simultaneously in more than one EU state, let alone more than one pharmacy? Can it cope with reconciling a pack from a batch near the end of its shelf-life, ie manufactured 5+ years ago? That's one hell of a database to have both read and write access instantaneously.

If you think how late ETP implementation has been relative to the initial anouncement and the fact that it is still unable to cope with certain types of script, eg CDs, do we really think that there will be a viable EU wide spine within 3 years, even if our pharmacy systems can cope?

The PSNC is going to have fun working out how we are to be compensated for all the bulk containers, split packs etc sitting on the dispensary shelves. But at least we might finally end up getting paid correctly for what we supply.

Call Me Cycnical, Senior Management

John, this is the killer question, split packs may have to become history in order for this to work.

Rich S, Community pharmacist

There is STILL no standardised 'pack size' (28's 30's)....GP's STILL confuse this issue....what about Rx synchronisation -the one off irregular quantities to 'reduce waste'...ALL these split box will only hit our bottom line! This is just getting ridiculous now!!! 

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

They won't iron them out John. It will be exactly like ETP. WE will have to work with them and iron them out ourselves!

max falconer, Superintendent Pharmacist

Right PSNC this is your moment to actually do something!!

In the immortal words of the great lady. NO!,NO!,NO! This is another ridiculous EU inititative shifting the burden from big companies who lobby Brussels to get what they want and dump all the smelly stuff on individuals and smaller companies. This is the responsibility of manufacturers, government agencies and maybe wholesalers NOT pharmacy.

We will not co-operate in this ludicrous scenario unless it is fully funded with new money. Please PSNC send this message now!!! Do not co-opererate with the DoH- they don't co-operate with us!!

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Totally agree Max!  Vote out!!  (or roll on retirement!!)

Yuna Mason, Sales

I wouldn't like to hear his "bad news". Oh wait - it is good news for him, because the wholesalers don't have to do it at their end.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Why do we have to do it? Couldn't wholesalers scan the products in bulk on receipt? 

Yuna Mason, Sales

In the debates about who would get the short straw, I imagine the main argument coming from wholesalers was that the check must be completed at the latest point just before supply to the patient. But really - how many pharmacies are naughty enough to source medicines where there is a risk that they are fake? Who places orders other than from a well known manufacturer or wholesaler? How common is this? Surely the check could be done on a large scale at the distribution end more easily? I don't know enough about the subject really - it would be nice to learn why that solution wasn't chosen. Could it be people in ivory towers blinkardly dreaming up more things for coalface pharmacy staff to do?

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

What concerns me, is as well as now printing all the scripts, we will, in 3 yrs have to scan every single packet we dispense!!  Do we get more funding for staff for this? And what if we're so busy a few packs get missed or forgotten? Surely there is an easier way than this?! And the joy of scanning 84 fortisips? Has a pharmacy in the UK done a trial of all this for a day? !!

THB _B, Community pharmacist

Happy to do this. Full funding plus some on costs are required. I suggest a payment of £20.00 for every pack requiring scanning is a reasonable renumeration for the work you expect. If you can't pay this please look elsewhere. I don't have the inclination to support the government at the moment. Something about core funding cuts to my business and more cuts promised. So pay up or bugger off.

THB _B, Community pharmacist

Happy to do this. Full funding plus some on costs are required. I suggest a payment of £20.00 for every pack requiring scanning is a reasonable renumeration for the work you expect. If you can't pay this please look elsewhere. I don't have the inclination to support the government at the moment. Something about core funding cuts to my business and more cuts promised. So pay up or bugger off.

Call Me Cycnical, Senior Management

Yuna, the delegated act states the check must be done preceding the moment of handing over meds, you are correct. More to do with data collection and prevent interference between wholesaler and patient. I agree it appears a burden, but the PMR will populate the drug name etc eliminating the need for typing, it's actually much quicker than the existing process. The verification takes a fraction of a second, I've already integrated out system and can speak from experience.

Yuna Mason, Sales

Thanks for the info. The wholesaler doing the check would also be 'preceding the moment of handing over' though - just not immediately preceding? Does every packet have to be scanned - so if I get a prescription for 2 boxes of aspirin, do I have to scan both? How does it work with tetrapaks etc? EPS automatically populates the details in the PMR anyway, so this is extra work on top of EPS?

Call Me Cycnical, Senior Management

It all depends on PMR provider, how they integrate this into the process of dispensing. PMR's vary massively with EPS, one is a joy to use according to the vast number of pharmacy owners I talk to, others not so elegant. FMD integration will be the same. I'm sure users will shape the finalised offerings from all companies.

Crazy Chemist, Community pharmacist

If you can fake a tablet, you can fake a barcode.

Call Me Cycnical, Senior Management

Yin, read up how it works, a unique barcode for each pack is held centrally, anytime that pack is scanned in a pharmacy, it is checked against the central dbase. The central dbase knows everything about the pack and IF its been scanned before, if it has then the pack must not be given to the patient, the response form the central dbase tells you; pack details, expiry, whether scanned previously, and a whole load of compliance information for the patient, even videos on how to use appliances. A fake barcode will fall at the first hurdle.

Crazy Chemist, Community pharmacist

A unique barcode per pack? Im not sure that is even possible. How many 100000s of bendro, levo, simva are dispensed? Are you telling me there is a barcode for EACH packet? Im not sure there are enough permutations of codes for every pack (even if its the new square barcode).

Call Me Cycnical, Senior Management

Yes Yin, thats exactly what this is, a serialised pack with tamper evident seal and totally unique 2D Barcode on every single pack.

Mark Ashmore, Superintendent Pharmacist


You mean no more splitting OPs?

You mean no more transferring tablets into non-child-proof containers for infirm patients?

You mean no more bulk packs for MDS?

I don't believe it!

You mean two scanners per workstation, one for EPS Phase 4 tokens and one for scanning packs? Or maybe just spending ages switching from one module to another within the PMR system? Sounds great either way!

DfH believes dispensing doesn't finish till items are handed to patient so we will have to scan during dispensing process which cannot be as much of a check as at packing point

As usual top-down programing from the government!

max falconer, Superintendent Pharmacist

Perhaps you should change your name to 'Callmeinnocent'!

Fraudsters will easily circumvent this imposition. Plus what happens if the 'fake' barcode has already been scanned out and then a pharmacist scans the 'real' barcode. Counterfits are so good what's the betting the 'good' pharmacist will be done over for it?!?!?

Call Me Cycnical, Senior Management

Are you MAD Max? ;)

Brian Austen, Senior Management

Being ignorant of these matters. If computer systems are offline for any reason, does that mean nothing is dispensed during down time?

Call Me Cycnical, Senior Management

Honest Tikes... ever thought it was meant to solve more than one problem in the supply chain? I dont think FMD contributes to any reasoning behind leaving EU. Immigration does that all by itself but has no relevance to this topic either.

Sami Khaderia, Non healthcare professional



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