A scheme allowing pharmacists to check patient entitlement to free NHS prescriptions has been rolled out to around 2,400 community pharmacies — more than 20% of the total in England, pharmacy negotiators have said.
In a statement on its website, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said the Real Time Exemption Checking (RTEC) scheme will be rolled out to even more pharmacies “in the next few months”, as other pharmacy systems begin implementing the necessary IT.
As part of the first phase of RTEC, some pharmacists using Positive Solutions, Pharmacy Manager, ProScript Connect and Titan are able to digitally check whether patients are entitled to free NHS prescriptions, owing to maternity, medical exemptions, prepayment certificates, HC2 (NHS low-income scheme) or NHS tax credits.
A second phase is being piloted in five pharmacies that will allow pharmacists to check for Department for Work and Pensions exemptions. This does not include Universal Credit exemptions, which will be rolled out as part of a third phase.
In its statement, the PSNC advised contractors to read and agree to the RTEC user agreement on the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) website “to avoid delays in their system supplier activating RTEC as part of their rollout programme”.
“Pharmacies already using RTEC report that it saves staff time, and because a patient that is found to be exempt via RTEC does not need to complete an exemption declaration on an EPS [electronic prescription service] token, it reduces the use of paper, decreasing the risk of transmission of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the PSNC said.
“RTEC has already been rolled out to PMR [patient medication record] systems in around 2,400 pharmacies and further rollouts are scheduled in the next few months in pharmacies that use the Cegedim Pharmacy Manager, EMIS Proscript Connect, Invatech Titan and Positive Solutions PMR systems.”
The RTEC scheme was first trialled in four pharmacies in Oldham, Greater Manchester; Leeds, West Yorkshire; Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire; and Manchester in February 2019, before being rolled out to 10% of pharmacies in the summer of that year.
However, according to meeting papers from the PSNC’s Community Pharmacy IT group, plans for more pharmacies to start using RTEC were paused between summer 2020 and November 2020 while NHS BSA and pharmacy IT system suppliers “discussed new arrangements for data sharing”.
A report of treasury minutes, published in November 2020, put the estimated cost of the RTEC project from 1 April 2016 to 30 March 2021 at £3m, with ongoing NHS BSA costs estimated as £100,000 per year.