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The future of the Electronic Prescription Service

In the future, EPS Phase 4 will become the default option for the prescribing, dispensing and reimbursement of prescriptions in primary care in England.

The Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) currently enables prescribers to send prescriptions electronically to a dispenser of the patient's choice - known their 'nominated' dispenser. Electronic prescriptions currently account for around 40% of all prescriptions issued in England.

In the future, EPS Phase 4 will become the default option for the prescribing, dispensing and reimbursement of prescriptions in primary care in England.  Paper prescriptions will continue to be available for special circumstances, but the vast majority of prescriptions will be processed electronically.

All patients will be offered a 'token' to present at a pharmacy to obtain their medication. This token will contain a unique barcode which can be scanned at any pharmacy to retrieve the medication details.

It's expected that Phase 4 will increase the proportion of prescriptions sent electronically to around 90%. Some prescriptions may remain unsuitable for transmission by EPS, such as when there are constraints regarding the prescribed drug. Further developments will look to address these restrictions and maximise EPS volumes. 

NHS Digital will initially pilot Phase 4 at a small number of GP practices across England. The main change will be that patients at these pilot sites who haven't got an EPS nomination will automatically receive electronic prescriptions and will be given a paper token. Pharmacy staff will be required to scan the barcode on the token in order to download the prescription from the NHS Spine.

Nothing will change for patients who already have a nomination and new nominations should continue to be set at GP practices and pharmacies.

What EPS Phase 4 means for GP practices

Initially, practices not taking part in the pilot will not be affected. GP practices involved in the pilot will receive support from the EPS team at NHS Digital. Details of the practices taking part will be published on this website.

What EPS Phase 4 means for dispensers

Patients at the GP practice pilot sites who haven't got a nomination will be given a paper token by their GP practice (patients may refer to these as paper copies of their prescription). They will be able to take these tokens to any pharmacy in England.

During the pilot stage, all pharmacies will need to be ready and know what to do if a patient presents a paper token from one of the pilot GP sites. NHS Digital will work closely with the pharmacies most affected by the Phase 4 pilot, ensuring lessons are learnt and taken on board in order to inform the national implementation plans. 

As with all EPS prescriptions, dispensers will need to endorse the electronic prescription through their pharmacy system. Endorsements written or printed onto any type of EPS token will not be processed by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA). 

National implementation of Phase 4

If the pilot is successful, we'll need to gain approval to start the rollout of EPS Phase 4 nationally. A move to Phase 4 will significantly increase the volume of electronic prescriptions and it's vital that all elements of the service are robust.

Controlled Drugs update

Enabling Schedule 2 and 3 Controlled Drugs (CDs) to be prescribed and dispensed via EPS is getting closer. We'll soon be testing a way of sending CDs through EPS in the same way as regular medications. If the tests are successful, and once prescribing systems have been updated, we can send CDs by EPS.

Have a question about the Electronic Prescription Service? Please contact enquiries@nhsdigital.nhs.uk.

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