Some of the most tightly controlled drugs could be dispensed through the electronic prescription service (EPS) if Department of Health (DH) proposals are successful.
In a consultation launched on Thursday (July 17), the DH suggested amending the law so drugs controlled under Schedules 2 and 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 – including opiates and barbiturates – could be prescribed electronically. Currently, these can only be dispensed from a paper prescription to avoid possible abuse.
Since 2005, drugs controlled under Schedules 4 and 5 – such as diazepam and preparations containing low strengths of more heavily regulated drugs – have been prescribed electronically.
Although 95 per cent of community pharmacies have signed up to EPS, the DH said only 26 per cent of GP practices were EPS enabled. It said it was aware of GP practices choosing not to use EPS because some controlled drugs still needed to be prescribed on paper.
"Splitting" prescriptions by issuing controlled drugs on paper and the remainder through EPS was inefficient and reduced the system's benefits, the DH said. It also raised issues around patient safety, as pharmacists may not realise the prescription had been split and only dispense part of it.
As well as allowing NHS prescriptions for tightly controlled drugs to be sent via EPS, the DH also suggested private prescriptions of these items should be sent through the system.
EPS uses an advanced electronic signature providing an "enhanced level of security", the DH said. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not have an electronic prescription system that used a similar security feature, but the DH plans to ensure its proposals are compatible with future developments in these countries.
Community pharmacists have until October 9 to respond to the consultation.