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Lack of EPS a 'nightmare' following IT system failure

Cegedim is aware of a "small number of messages" that have not been released from the central NHS IT system

Pharmacists say they are still unable to download prescriptions following last week's fault with system supplier Cegedim

Pharmacists have described the fall-out from last week’s IT system failure as a “nightmare” that has left them still unable to access some electronic prescriptions.

A fault meant that pharmacies using system supplier Cegedim were unable to download electronic prescriptions from the evening of Wednesday, April 8 until the following Saturday morning. Contractors told C+D yesterday (April 13) that they had still not received prescriptions sent during this period.

Cegedim, which claims to supply more than half of UK pharmacies, told C+D the disruption had been caused by “a change made [by] BT”. “This outage was not something that our technical consultants had ever seen and was quite unique in its impact,” said managing director Simon Driver.

The company was aware of “a small number of messages” on the central NHS IT system that had not been sent and said  that these would be released “today” (April 14). 

Chris Armstrong, owner of Armstrong’s Pharmacy in Sheffield, told C+D on Monday that his business had not still not received “a whole bunch of scripts" that were assigned while the pharmacy had been unable to access the electronic prescription service (EPS).

Mr Armstrong said his pharmacy could potentially have to dispense hundreds of items for prescriptions it did not have, which “could bankrupt us”.

“All we can do is lend medication to patients. We have no idea whether we will get the scripts to cover them,” Mr Armstrong said. “This is definitely the worst I’ve known,” he added.

Stuck in limbo

Amanda Smith, manager of Heath Pharmacy in Huddersfield, told C+D that scripts were “stuck in limbo from last week” and could not be downloaded as they were listed on the system as “with another dispenser”.  

Amish Patel, manager of Hodgson Pharmacy in Kent, said the business was back “up to date” after the disruption, but he had discovered “lots of errors on prescriptions” as well as missing and cancelled items.

Mr Driver told C+D today (April 14) that Cegedim had updated its customers by email about the disruption and its service desk had “remained open past normal working hours”. He apologised for the impact on customers and patients, and said the company would review its communication channels.

“A full cause analysis is being delivered to us by our suppliers that we will act upon to prevent this event occurring in the future,” he said.

Cegedim had also invested more than £2 million in a facility to provide “additional resilience to the service”, which it hoped to commission in early 2016, Mr Driver added.


Are you still experiencing problems with Cegedim's system? 

We want to hear your views, but please express them in the spirit of a constructive, professional debate. For more information about what this means, please click here to see our community principles and information


Raymond Lee, Community pharmacist

The buck has to stop with someone - either BT or the system supplier. It is not acceptable to be "in limbo". Patients and professionals are being put at risk at all levels.

SHABBIR.J ABDULHUSSEIN., Community pharmacist


Biju Gandecha, Superintendent Pharmacist

A fair amount would be 1/4 of annual maintenance charge for each Pharmacy

Z ZZzzzz, Information Technology

HSCIC discussed various "if things go wrong" scenarios with a certain pharmacy group, one scenario did indeed mention compensation. Of course the system suppliers in the meeting baulked at the thought of providing any compensation. So of course that will probably never happen. PSNC were also privy to that meeting. Their lack of response to this article and the comments so far speaks volumes I think. Have you noticed there has been no mention of the problems from last week mentioned in the "normal" press. It's what I expected as Jeremy Hunt wants a paperless NHS by 2018. Not likely to happen if those GPs that have not turned on EPS2 decide never to do so! Therefore no "bad" publicity at all allowed. Seems the so-called lessons learned from last years Spine 2 switch-over..... No wait, no-one is allowed access to any lessons learned unless you happen to be part of the HSCIC inner circle. I imagine no lessons were learned and that's why no-one can get access to the information. The whole HSCIC set up is a joke when it comes to what happens with EPS. Why did they not issue an email immediately to all surgeries informing them of the problems, instead of over 50% of England's pharmacies having to contact surgeries individually to be not believed. BT created the problem and they will rake in the profits from all the phone calls that had to be made by pharmacies to Cegedim and surgeries. Great business model from BT to b*lls things up originally don't you think.

John Randell, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager


Dodo pharmacist, Community pharmacist

The "small" number of messages on the system which were due to be released today have not been released today - what a surprise! We are still waiting for a large number of eps scripts, which the prescription tracker says have been sent to us, but which we haven't got. Patients are coming in all the time asking for them. I really do not know what to do next and have had zero communication from Cegedim.

Hayley Johnson, Community pharmacist

this really does sound like a horrible situation to be in. And of course, once again, it feels like the bulk of the responsibility falls on the pharmacists shoulders- It's you guys that have the patients in front of you, complaining that their prescription isn't there, and its you guys that have to make the emergency supplies, with the financial and otherwise risks that entails. Yes, things can go wrong for various reasons, but it really seems like the way pharmacists have been- and still are- being treated in this instance is awful. Hope it is all sorted soon. All I can offer is a metaphorical putting on of the kettle for all affected.

F A, Community pharmacist

Second Hayley's sentiments. This shouldn't be happening, and 'Sorry' certainly isn't good enough.

Anil Patel, Community pharmacist

Who is liable for this system failure? Cegedim or are they making a claim against BT on behalf of the contractors? I feel we must have a back up system - perhaps even a pharmacy having 2 systems so that the data can be merged. If one company fails then the other can be used for the download of prescriptions or if BT has failed then a 4G connection used to download.

Tariq Atchia, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Agree - the solution to this specific problem is to open up the system so that Cegedim customers can use another provider's message handler service as a backup rather than being reliant on a single point of failure.

Biju Gandecha, Superintendent Pharmacist

Do you want a laugh! Cegdim already provide a 3G connection (at an extortionate cost) , fat lot of good it was in this situation. As my contract was with Cegdim and NOT BT or other suppliers to Cegdim, I believe that if all the "victims" oops, (Customers!) of Cegdim request the provider to compensate us for (a). Loss of income, (b), Increased workload, (c). Potential future harm or reputation of our business as a result of this debacle.

Kieran Eason, Superintendent Pharmacist

"Updated customers by email" - well I haven't recieved that email so clearly that's not a robust system of reporting issues with the system...

Biju Gandecha, Superintendent Pharmacist

Same here!, and phoning the helpline was a joke- after waiting for over 1 hour I eventually got through only to be told there is an "issue" with the EPS and we are trying to resolve it. Not much help when you have patients waiting for their prescriptions!

Gursaran Matharu, Community pharmacist

For 36 hours there was a real issue with patient safety and access to medicines and not a word from NHS England or the DoH.EPS R2 needs a rethink now, I spent all of yesterday hunting scripts mysteriously lost in the system with little help from Cegedim, in fact they were reluctant to give me the daily admin' key so that I could use the "FixMe" function.

David Walker, Community pharmacist

I had to laugh when HSCIC updates rated the issue as "resolved". I was informed by them that they rely on Cegedim's assessment of the situation. Only today (Tuesday) I was told by Cegedim that they would be updating us about the "backlog"but other than HSCIC updates (which twice a day tell us whether or not the problem is ongoing) we have had no useful communication from Cegedim.

Andrew Watson, Superintendent Pharmacist

I hope that other pharmacy system suppliers also learn from this so that it does not happen again.

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

We were fortunate in that we informed theGPs a s soon as we we aware it was more than just a temporary glitch and they stopped issuing using EPS2 - what it has done for confidence in the system is anyone's guess!

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Despite Mr Driver’s comments about providing “additional resilience to the service” I believe last weeks massive failure demonstrates what some of us have been saying for years. Simply that EPS in its current format is a very fragile and flawed system. It is only a matter of time before another fault brings the system down. Worse (from the Pharmacy perspective) is that when it fails there are no workarounds. You can talk all you like about vacuous contingency plans/SOPs etc but fundamentally you are stuffed when it rolls over. The only solution is trying to sort the chaos out with massive numbers of emergency supplies and trying to get paper scripts from surgeries. At the very least those Pharmacies hit by last weeks failure should receive financial compensation from Cegedim (they can sort out blame/claim with BT). Additionally any further roll out of EPS should be frozen pending a thorough evaluation of its resilience.

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