Community pharmacists in England will not have access to the GP Connect IT system in time for the launch of the Pharmacy First service on 31 January 2024.
According to NHS England, 10,265 community pharmacies have signed up to the new Pharmacy First service, through which they will offer advice and treatment for seven common conditions: sinusitis; sore throat; infected insect bites; impetigo; shingles; uncomplicated UTIs in women; and acute otitis media.
Access to the GP Connect system will allow community pharmacies to view patients’ GP care records and update them with details from patient consultations. NHS England said in October 2023 that community pharmacies could have access to the system by the end of January 2024.
However, a statement published by Community Pharmacy England (CPE) on 25 January 2024 said that access to GP Connect was not expected until “within a few weeks of launch” of Pharmacy First.
This means that, for the first few weeks of Pharmacy First, pharmacists will need to use existing National Care Record Service access to review GP patient data.
Responding to the news, James Davies, director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said that pharmacy teams had “worked incredibly hard at a busy time of year to prepare for the start of the service” despite the delay in implementing IT systems.
“It is disappointing that this is not starting with the full digital capability that was originally planned,” he added.
“This delay will put additional pressure on pharmacy and practice teams. However, we know that our members will use their skills and available resources to ensure safe consultation and service to patients, mirroring the successful implementation of services like the community pharmacist consultation service.”
Ruth Rankine, primary care director at the NHS Confederation, said that in order to “properly support” its members and pharmacies, the NHS Confederation must be ensured “that GP and pharmacy IT systems are properly connected so that updating patient records between the two services does not create additional work for staff”.
She added: “The last thing we want is for patients to fall through the cracks between the two services.”
Janet Morrison, chief executive of CPE, said: “We are clear that the NHS cannot launch new services without appropriate IT being in place, so it has been good to see the collaborative effort to get this ready to pay off, and we look forward to the ongoing improvements to systems that will roll out through February.”
A spokesperson for NHS England told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “At the launch of Pharmacy First, community pharmacists will use existing established processes to access health information through the National Care Record Service.
“As registered healthcare professionals, they will discuss all clinically relevant information with the patient during the consultation to agree appropriate treatment options in line with the published clinical pathways.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to continually improve the systems used by the front line, we will continue to explore how we can make it easier for pharmacists to access all the relevant health information they need to support consultations”.
A letter from NHS England, published on 25 January 2024, said that pharmacy teams using all four approved IT system suppliers will have Pharmacy First screens ready for 31 January 2024, which will support the clinical pathways and allow them to send data for payments and monitoring to NHS Business Services Authority.