Trusts send more than 4,500 electronic prescriptions as part of NHS pilot

Exclusive: In response to a freedom of information request, NHS Digital said the three hospital trusts involved in the pilot had sent 4,504 prescriptions through the electronic prescription service
Pharmacist using a computer

Hospital trusts have sent more than 4,500 prescriptions during an NHS pilot programme trialling the electronic prescription service (EPS) in secondary care.

The pilot, which first launched in June 2020 in three hospital trusts in England, aims to enable hospital outpatient prescriptions to be sent electronically to patients’ nominated community pharmacy.

In its response to a freedom of information request, NHS Digital said the three trusts had sent a total of 4,504 prescriptions through EPS as of 31 July 2021.

This figure included 2,928 prescriptions from Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, 1,484 from Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and 92 from Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

NHS Digital’s response also said that the “majority of prescriptions are likely to have been nominated to pharmacies, but some may have been nominated to dispensing appliance contractors”.

The pilot is still running in both Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, but ended on 30 June 2021 at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

In slides provided by NHS Digital as part of its response, NHSx — which is jointly running the pilot with NHS Digital — set out “lessons learned” from the pilot in July 2020, saying that EPS in secondary care “reduces the pressure on busy outpatient pharmacies (working extremely hard to keep up with the delivery demand imposed by COVID)”.

However, the slides added that there is a “cultural challenge” to using the EPS in secondary care, with “common thinking on adoption across the system that EPS in [a] secondary care setting is a ‘plug and play’ solution”.

“Providing EPS in secondary care is not just plug and play; it is a complex delivery and system integration is not straightforward. Users will need support from national and local organisations,” it said.

Simon Whitfield, director of quality improvement and medicines optimisation in the pharmacy department at Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said the pilot was rolled out “to two of our community older adult mental health teams and two of our neurodevelopmental service teams”.

“Transferring prescriptions electronically has demonstrated several benefits: it is more efficient than the existing process, was well received by both staff and people who use our services, it reduced the likelihood of errors, e.g. interpreting handwriting, lost scripts, or alterations, and allowed medication to be provided promptly even when face to face contact was restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Whitfield added that the pilot’s success has led to the development of “a strategy to deploy EPS more widely across other community-based teams in Surrey and North East Hampshire”.

A spokesperson for the pharmacy team at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said the pilot was especially useful during COVID-19.

“It’s another avenue to get medications to a patient … and this will always be an advantage — but the current system is still a standalone system hence extra training is required when needing to use it.”

They said that, as a standalone system, it did not simplify prescribing, “but we didn’t expect it to do that because it is such a basic system that we were using”.

“In the future, the idea is that the pilot will be integrated with whatever electronic system the hospital will be using and that should simplify [prescribing],” they said.

The spokesperson confirmed that the pilot, which had initially only been expected to run for six months, had no set end date.

NHS Digital previously told The Pharmaceutical Journal in July 2021 that it expected the “‘first of type’ to commence in autumn 2021”, in reference to the electronic prescribing system that will be used in hospitals.

According to NHS Digital, ‘first of type’ is an IT development stage, during which test cases are chosen to try out the first iteration of new capabilities.

READ MORE: Paper prescriptions will be a rare sight by next year, says NHS Digital programme lead

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, September 2021, Vol 307, No 7953;307(7953)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.104331

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