Three hospital trusts trial electronic prescription service during COVID-19 pandemic

NHS Digital has developed the electronic prescription service pilot in three hospital trust outpatient departments to “support COVID-19 outpatients” ahead of a wider roll-out.

Electronic prescription

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NHS Digital said the pilots aimed “to help understand the challenges and benefits of introducing the electronic prescription service into secondary care”

Three hospital trusts in England have been piloting the electronic prescription service (EPS) in an effort to “support COVID-19 outpatients” ahead of a wider roll-out, NHS Digital has said.

The EPS previously only enabled the transfer of prescriptions from general practice to community pharmacies. However, NHS Digital board papers, published on 25 August 2020, said it had been working with NHSx — a government arm responsible for digital transformation of health and social care — and computer system supplier, TPP, to develop the “short term pilot” in three hospital trust outpatient departments.

The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust have all been involved in the pilot, NHS Digital told The Pharmaceutical Journal.

A spokesperson for NHS Digital said that the pilots aimed “to help understand the challenges and benefits of introducing the electronic prescription service into secondary care”.

“The learning from the pilots has helped develop a longer-term strategy to support the adoption and use of the service to support hospitals and other settings in the future,” they added. 

In a statement on its website, the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said that the Royal Victoria Infirmary was given the opportunity to trial the EPS in secondary care until the end of July 2020 as part of exploring “new ways of working due to COVID-19”.

“Traditionally, patients attending their outpatient appointment would be assessed and supplied with a prescription to be taken to the outpatient pharmacy,” the statement said.

“However, due to the pandemic, the majority of outpatient consultations have been taking place over the phone or using other technology, meaning it is not as easy to get medication to patients who need it.”

Hospital prescriptions were therefore sent electronically to the patient’s community pharmacy, where they were dispensed to be collected or delivered to the patient’s address if they were shielding at the time.

Niamh O’Connell, lead clinical pharmacist at the trust, said the hospital was the first in the UK to send an electronic script to a community pharmacy in early June 2020, from the paediatric gastroenterology team at the Great North Children’s Hospital.

“It was for a young patient who needed a change in medication after they had been reviewed by a consultant over the phone, and was dispensed and delivered the same day in less than three hours, saving a 50-mile round trip for their parents,” she explained.

“The alternative would have been at least a five-to-seven-day delay if we had had to send a letter to the GP to supply a prescription or ask our own outpatient pharmacy to dispense and [deliver] due to the sheer demand [during] COVID.

“In this instance, the GP only needed to update the medication records for the next time the patient requires this medication.”

Neil Watson, director of pharmacy at the trust, said that although the pilot ended in July 2020, the experience would be used “to inform the development of the system and subsequent roll-out at some point next year”.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, August 2020;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208302