Pharmacy contractors have told C+D that receiving a response to emailed prescription requests can be difficult, and that they still need to fax requests to a number of GP surgeries.
Pharmacy2U first flagged the issue in written evidence submitted to the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) inquiry into digital transformation in the NHS in September.
"Despite the March 2020 deadline for phasing out fax machines across the NHS, we still need to fax prescription requests to around 50% of GP surgeries, with a further 5% requiring a physical letter to be sent,” the online pharmacy told the PAC inquiry, which published its report last week (November 6).
“This creates both avoidable delays for patients and increased burden on an already busy workforce,” Pharmacy2U said in its written evidence.
The decision to phase out fax machines across the NHS was announced by health secretary Matt Hancock in December 2018. The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) said at the time that, from April 2020, the use of fax machines would be banned and all NHS organisations would be required to use “modern communication methods, such as secure email, to improve patient safety and cyber security”.
“A simple system” needed
Well told C+D last week (November 6) that its pharmacies still receive fax requests for GP emergency and out of hours service supply – “where there is a requirement for an emergency supply ahead of receiving the formal prescription”.
Private prescriptions are faxed by GPs before the patient comes into the pharmacy, “to improve the customer experience so we can check we have the right stock ahead of receiving the formal prescription”, a Well spokesperson said.
“We are also aware [that] some pharmacies during the pandemic have needed to fax repeat prescription requests to their local GP surgeries who are not accepting visitors,” they said. However, Well has “integrated our patient medication records with NHSmail in England and therefore avoided needing to do this,” the spokesperson added.
Rifat Asghar-Hussain, superintendent pharmacist at Evergreen Pharmacy in Birmingham, told C+D last week (November 6) that her pharmacy “mostly email repeats” but still uses fax machines for “a few surgeries”.
“We need a simple system to connect pharmacies with surgeries,” she said, highlighting issues with the way it currently works. “The surgeries have one generic email where everything is sent. The admin staff have to filter through all the emails to find repeats and queries that pharmacies send.”
“Getting through on the phone is a near impossible task [and] emails get delayed,” Ms Asghar-Hussain added, suggesting that instead having “a separate email just for pharmacy use would work”.
Ellie Bennett, managing director at Wicker Pharmacy in Sheffield, told C+D last week (November 6) that her pharmacy prints out “about 40%” of the prescription requests it sends out, dropping them off at GP surgeries as “a lot of GPs are still struggling with dealing with email requests”.
“We often still have to phone to get these prescriptions, which means long periods on hold and receptionists who think we are wasting their time. The whole system is wasteful and time-sapping,” she said.
A spokesperson for the DH told C+D yesterday (November 9) that: “There has already been an unprecedented increase in the use and availability of electronic prescribing across the NHS, with over 96% of GPs now able to use the electronic prescription service.
However, the government wants “to go further and NHS Digital is looking to improve the functionality of electronic prescribing and extend its use into more care settings,” they added.
In July 2018, a report by the Royal College of Surgeons revealed that around 9,000 fax machines were still used by the NHS in England, with one hospital trust alone using more than 600.