NHS in England to fully digitise prescriptions in promise to save £300m in next three years

Primary care minister Jo Churchill said the national rollout of the electronic service would also help free up time for GPs.
By Leontina Postelnicu
11:17 AM

All prescriptions in England are to be digitised in the national rollout of an electronic system that will start next month, the department of health and social care announced on Saturday (19 October).

It follows trials including 60 GP practices and hundreds of pharmacies across the country, where almost 70% of prescriptions are already prescribed and dispensed through the electronic prescription service (EPS).

This means that patients will no longer need to pick up repeat prescriptions from their GP. Instead, they will receive a unique prescription barcode that can be scanned at pharmacies in order to retrieve details of their medication.

WHY IT MATTERS

According to the DHSC, the EPS is expected to save the NHS £300m in the next three years by reducing prescribing errors and supporting a move away from paper-based processes.

“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,” said Dr Ian Lowry, director for digital medicines and pharmacy at NHS Digital. “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,” he added.

Last year, researchers from the York, Manchester and Sheffield universities reported that an estimated 237 million medication errors took place across the NHS every year.

“What this report is showing us is that we need better linking of information across the NHS to help find more ways of preventing medication errors,” said at the time Rachel Elliott, health economics professor at the University of Manchester.

THE LARGER TREND

The EPS announcement comes at a time when NHSX, the new unit for digital, data and technology, has come under fire for limiting people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds from applying for a CNIO role, based on the criteria listed as required in order to be considered. 

On Thursday (17 October), NHSX announced that it put the recruitment process on hold, with a representative tweeting: “Thanks for your feedback on the CNIO role. We’ve heard your concerns and we're looking again at the criteria to ensure they fit with NHSX values. We’ve paused the application process for now but it will reopen very soon. Applications to date have been saved and are still valid.”

ON THE RECORD

Commenting on the national EPS rollout, primary care minister Jo Churchill said: “Digitising the entire prescription service is a key part of keeping up the drive to make the NHS fit for the 21st century. This will free up vital time for GPs and allow pharmacists to spend more time with their patients, and save millions of pounds a year.

“It’s another important step towards eventually making all prescriptions paperless. We are continuing to improve technology.”