Universal electronic prescriptions could save NHS £300m in next three years

Prescription processing is to become digital by default as the final phase of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) is rolled out across the country.

The latest improvement to EPS - known as Phase 41 - allows prescriptions for all patients to be sent using the more efficient system, not only for those who had chosen a regular ‘nominated’ dispenser2. Electronic prescriptions will save the NHS £300m by 2021.

EPS saves the NHS time and money by reducing the amount of paper processing required by GPs, pharmacists and the NHS Business Services Authority.

GP practices across England took part in a successful pilot, which saw 329,000 prescriptions dispensed by more than 3,100 community pharmacies.

Roll-out of EPS Phase 4 starts from 18 November, beginning with GP practices using the TPP SystmOne system. Implementation will continue into next year with other system suppliers, while Clinical Commissioning Groups will manage the roll-out in their own areas with support from NHS Digital3 and the NHSBSA.

Patients will see little or no change to the process of being prescribed medicines by their GP, or how they request and collect them from their community pharmacy. Those without a nominated pharmacy still receive a paper copy of their prescription listing what has been prescribed, but this will also contain a barcode. Pharmacy staff will then scan the barcode to download their electronic prescription from the secure NHS database – the NHS Spine.

The 32m patients who already have a nominated pharmacy will still have their prescriptions sent electronically without needing a paper copy.

Prescribers and dispensers will only have to use one main process, leading to a more efficient, faster and secure service. If a patient loses their paper copy, it can be easily reprinted, while the risk of dispensing duplicate prescriptions reduces as electronic prescriptions can’t be lost. More prescriptions can also be tracked using the EPS Prescription Tracker.

Dr Ian Lowry, Director of Digital Medicines and Pharmacy at NHS Digital, said: “Every prescription that is sent electronically saves money for the NHS by increasing efficiency. The system is also safer and more secure, as prescriptions can’t be lost and clinicians can check their status online.

“Building upon the success of the existing service, this is a huge milestone to reach, and one which benefits patients, GPs, pharmacists and the NHS as a whole.”

Martin Kelsall, Director of Primary Care Services at the NHSBSA, said: “EPS has the potential to deliver significant benefits to patients while saving millions of pounds that could be re-invested in patient care. This is especially true for patients who get regular or repeat prescriptions, using Electronic Repeat Dispensing (eRD) – a process that allows regular medicines to be prescribed for suitable patients in batches of up to a year.

“Working collaboratively with NHS Digital, our EPS Support team has been working with primary care staff to maximise EPS use. The team provides bespoke support and guidance through dashboards, workshops, webinars, phone calls and one-to-one training sessions. We’ve also developed a comprehensive range of resources to help primary care providers increase their use of EPS.

“As Phase 4 progresses, we’ll continue to work with prescribers and dispensers to support their use of EPS and eRD and promote best practice.”

Keith Ridge, the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, said: “This is another major development towards making NHS services more convenient for patients in the digital age, offering an efficient, effective and safe service that also saves the NHS money.”

  2. In EPS, patients can choose or ‘nominate’ a community pharmacy and/or Dispensing Appliance Contractor (DAC). Their prescriptions will then be sent electronically to their ‘nominated’ dispenser.
  3. Once CCGs have confirmed their go live schedule, this will be published here