Layer 1

Readers wary of plans to introduce EPS 'tokens'

C+D readers say potential problems with barcode scanners and the speed of EPS could hinder HSCIC's plans

HSCIC needs to address existing issues with the service before it introduces a new barcode system for electronic prescriptions, say pharmacists


C+D readers are wary of plans to overhaul the electronic prescription service (EPS) by giving patients “tokens” with barcodes.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) announced last month (June 26) that it expected the “vast majority” of paper prescriptions to be replaced by these tokens by March 2017. As part of the changes, scheduled to begin in April 2016, patients will be able to choose whether to receive their token on paper from their GP surgery or electronically, HSCIC said.

Patients will be able to display these tokens at any pharmacy to collect their medicines, but readers posting on the C+D website raised concerns about the reliability of EPS technology.

Superintendent Max Falconer branded the service “not fit for purpose”. “No further enhancements should even be considered until the current inadequate system works properly,” he said.

EPS became so slow by the end of every month that it was “virtually unusable” for sending notifications, he said. “It is highly noticeable that as more EPS scripts are processed, it’s all getting slower and slower.”

A mountain of work

Community pharmacist Clive Hodgson said it was “obvious” that EPS had been designed with “minimal consideration" for the sector. “A mountain of work has merely been transferred from GP surgeries to the pharmacy,” he added.

HSCIC said last month that it would provide “refresher training” for all dispensing staff ahead of the changes, but locum pharmacist David Sarabowski said the systems provider should start by “insisting that all surgeries followed [EPS] protocols”.

A community pharmacist posting as A A predicted that pharmacies would struggle to scan some tokens. “Unless the NHS funds every household in the country to obtain a decent laser printer, there is no guarantee the print quality will be good enough for our scanners to read,” they said.

Community pharmacist Stephen Eggleston insisted that EPS was "great when it works". "The bit to resolve is making it work 100 per cent of the time," he added.

HSCIC said last week that patients would no longer be required to nominate a pharmacy to collect their EPS prescription by 2017. Paper prescriptions would remain available in “special circumstances”, such as if there were "constraints on the prescribed drug" or if the patient had specifically asked for this option, it added.

Last month, a C+D poll showed that nearly four in 10 readers experienced daily problems with EPS.


How will HSCIC's plans affect your business?

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


Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

Patient: "Can I have my prescription?" GP/receptionist: "No, we've sent it electronically to your pharmacy" Patient: "Good. I'll go there now" GP/receptionist "Wait - I need to give you a barcode so the pharmacy can dispense it for you" Patient: "But this is my prescription!" GP/receptionist:"No, this is a dispensing token. take it to the pharmacy so they can dispense it" Patient: "But I thought you said you'd sent it to the pharmacy electronically?" GP/receptionist: "Yes, but you still need this barcode for he pharmacy to dispense it for you Patient:" So, my medication wouldn't be dispensed until I take in this prescription?" GP/receptionist:"No, they need that barcode to dispense it for you - and it's not a prescription, it's a dispensing token" Patient:"?!??" (Wanders off bewildered)

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

*I may have misunderstood the proposed "improvement"

THB _B, Community pharmacist

No. You are spot on.

Sachin Badiani, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

We need to sort out the issue of only 4 items or less on an ETP prescription, the issue of the "ghost" ETP prescriptions, which get lost somewhere between the spine and the pharmacy, and having a fast connection to the spine where ETP prescriptions can be downloaded in the background, rather than user initiated.

JOHN MUNDAY, Locum pharmacist

I suppose this is a logical progression as the service moves forward. A lot of flight boarding passes are now sent to your phone so this could be a secure way of getting the 'token' barcode. I worry about a paper one but not for security reasons. in fact there is an advantage here of confidentiality but I agree, there would be bother if the code cannot be scanned. About 1 in 100 of existing pharmacy printed tokens don't scan now. I have a good printer at home and got caught out by a dodgy barcode at Sheffield Arena last year causing much grief. Let us go with what works and but let us also iron out the issues as they present themselves.

Job of the week

Pre-registration Pharmacist
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Up to £25,000