Less than 4 per cent of GP practices are using the latest version of the electronic prescription service (EPS) despite the NHS investing nearly £100 million in the project to date, C+D has learned.
Responding to a freedom of information request from C+D, the Department of Health (DH) revealed it had spent £97m on EPS since its inception nine years ago. But a Connecting for Health update on October 12 showed that while 61 per cent of pharmacies had upgraded to EPS2 – a paperless system – only 321 of the 8,228 GP practices in England had also made the move.
Only 321 of the 8,228 GP practices in England have made the switch to EPS2
More on electronic prescriptions
Experts voiced concerns over the "tiny" percentage of GPs using the system, leaving many pharmacies that had upgraded unable to put the service into practice. Currently, GPs are authorised to use EPS2 in 83 PCTs, and this will be extended to a further 33 PCTs in December.
Charles Alessi, GP and chairman of the National Association of Primary Care, said he was disappointed by the uptake rate. "I'm quite upset that [EPS release 2] hasn't been taken up as much as it could have. You can anticipate that it will make some significant savings," Dr Alessi told C+D.
But he predicted EPS2 would start gathering pace among GPs as they recognised how the system could help them communicate with pharmacists.
"Once healthy living pharmacies start to come upstream and pharmacies evolve to take on much more than dispensing, then I think communication [between GPs and pharmacists] will grow and practices will start to take up [the system]," Dr Alessi added.
And Numark urged pharmacists to keep pushing ahead with EPS2, despite the "tiny proportion of GPs" using the service.
"Repeat dispensing for appropriate patients will allow GPs and pharmacies alike to drive efficiencies into their current processes," said Andy Charlesworth, Numark's IT services manager. "It is however possible that these benefits have not been clearly acknowledged or understood by most practices."
"It's essential that contractors don't read these figures and use it as a reason to disengage with EPS2," Mr Charlesworth warned.
But Ryszard Cygan, owner of West Elloe Pharmacy, Spalding, said he was reluctant to upgrade until his local surgery made the move. "With EPS2 we wouldn't have to wait for the paper [prescriptions] – it would be brilliant and we would love to do it," he explained. "[But] there's no point now because the doctors don't write prescriptions for EPS2."
PSNC said it was "too early" to assess whether the £97m spend on EPS had paid off. And it stressed that rollout of the service should not be "rushed".
"EPS deployment, even though it is accelerating now major GP system suppliers have been given national rollout authority, needs to continue at a properly managed pace and not [be] rushed," said Lindsay McClure, PSNC NHS IT lead.
"A particular concern is the diminishing PCT resources as the NHS goes through its transition – PCTs have a key role in supporting EPS rollout, with responsibility for issuing smartcards and authorising GP practices to use the service," Ms McClure added. "Effective local infrastructures need to be in place to support day-to-day use of the service."
EPS rollout in figures
£97m spend on EPS to date
64% of pharmacies (7,117/10,951) EPS2 enabled
4% of GP practices (321/8,228) EPS2 enabled
741,655 patient nominations set
4.26m items dispensed through EPS2 prescriptions to date
Source: NHS Connecting for Health
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