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NHS Electronic Prescription Service cuts GP workload

Dr Tony Kaye urges practices to sign up to Release 2 of the EPS to streamline prescription processing.

Electronic prescribing saves time for GPs and benefits patients (Image: iStock)
Electronic prescribing saves time for GPs and benefits patients (Image: iStock)

The NHS Electronic Prescription Service Release 2 (EPS R2) has arrived and is gradually being rolled out to practices and pharmacies in England. 

This exciting development benefits patients and streamlines prescribing and dispensing work.

If you were wondering if EPS R2 was one of those massive NHS IT projects doomed to failure you could not be more wrong. It is here and at a pharmacy near you.

Key features of EPS R2 
  • Patients can nominate their chosen pharmacy.
  • Prescribers authorise the prescription using a digital signature.
  • Bulk signing of prescriptions with a single signature
  • Electronic repeat prescriptions
  • Prescriptions can be cancelled electronically

No more illegible scripts

I have been involved with the development of EPS R2 for about seven years and am as passionate about it now as when I was invited to join the Connecting for Health (CfH) GP advisory group for programme development.

It makes total sense to me that in this world of electronic communications, our NHS should be able to send prescriptions without bits of green paper floating around, sometimes illegible, often getting damaged or lost, not to mention the possibility of errors in re-keying entries at the pharmacy or NHS Prescription Services.

Switching on

Finally, in May 2011, our practice in South Manchester became a pilot site of EPS R2 and went live.  

Currently over 50% of our prescriptions go via EPS R2, (and the percentage is rising rapidly month on month).

We have about 2,500 nominations for e-scripts from patients, and about 600 patients following their annual reviews have electronic repeat prescriptions (and the take-up rate is also rising month on month).

Roll out to practices and pharmacies

So where are we now and what have we been waiting for?  

Interoperability between all the GP clinical systems and all the pharmacy systems was the key to the success of the EPS R2 project, and clinical safety is paramount. 

Once the suppliers had completed their development, there was a lot of testing the electronic transmission of the messages, to ensure that what goes in at one end, comes out exactly the same at the other end.

The prescription message including drug, dose and quantity needs to be 100% correct every time.

Also the messages transmitted alongside the prescriptions (on the right hand side of the scrip) has to be available to the patient.  

Currently, over 70% of pharmacies in England are live with EPS, meaning they are ready to receive your electronic prescriptions. Sadly only about 400 GP practices are currently live, although more are in the pipeline. We need GPs to sign up, and switch on. It really works and it works brilliantly.

On the brink

InPS Vision, EMIS web, SystmOne, and all have full roll out approval and are able to switch on practices on (‘go live’) so long as the PCT has DH approval.    

All pharmacy systems except one also have ‘full roll out’ approval. So, there is now nothing to stop you from signing up, receiving your training and sending your scripts via the N3 network (for the NHS in England) to the pharmacy.

In essence, we are now on the brink of a massive roll out of EPS R2.

How electronic prescribing works
  • Each patient needs to nominate the pharmacy to which their prescriptions will be sent once their pharmacy is EPS R2-live.
  • The nomination can be made at the pharmacy or the GP practice, and can be changed or cancelled at any time, quickly and simply.
  • Nomination is not ideal for all patients but since most prescriptions are repeat prescriptions, and the majority of these tend to go to the same pharmacy each time, this is very suitable for the majority.
  • Prescriptions when processed at the practice are not printed but sent to the GP’s prescription ‘mailbox’. With their NHS smartcard in place, the GP can sign all the prescriptions waiting there with a single electronic signature – a great time saver.
  • The prescriptions are sent via the NHS’s N3 system, usually called ‘the spine', from where it is downloaded by patients’ nominated pharmacies and dispensed.
  • The pharmacist makes an electronic claim for payment from the NHS Prescription Services, and the evidence to date is that this works really well.

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