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A landmark moment: electronic prescriptions for controlled drugs

Controlled drugs are now part and parcel of the Electronic Prescription Service. Dr Ian Lowry, Director for Digital Integration, explains how this seismic shift came about and what it means for GP practices, community pharmacies and patients.

By Ian Lowry, 7 March 2019

Row of medicines on a pharmacy shelf

As I was food shopping in the run up to Christmas, my scanner in hand and in the middle of a traumatic family trolley-filling test of endurance, I noticed large posters near the instore pharmacy announcing: “Prescriptions are going digital, sign up with the pharmacy team today”.  

Looking at the posters, I remembered the cold, wet February morning in Keighley when the first electronic prescription was transmitted by a GP from Ling House Medical Centre to a nearby Co-op Pharmacy. As the electronic prescription arrived, we danced around the pharmacy, shouting “it works!”. It was an exciting day; none of us realised we were party to the genesis of a successful national Electronic Prescription Service (EPS).

Over time, the monumental business change required to move a nation towards digital prescriptions has grown steadily to create a truly national NHS Digital service. More than 30 million people now have a nominated pharmacy and approximately 65 per cent of prescriptions generated in GP practices every working day are electronic.

Throughout the national adoption and use of EPS, we were led by an underlying principle that the service needed to be safe and secure and that we would take a measured and controlled approach. As such, EPS was initially restricted to patients with a nominated pharmacy that could receive and process electronic prescriptions, and didn’t include prescriptions for schedule 2 or 3 controlled drugs.

Over time, the necessary legislative, clinical and technical system changes have been made to lift those restrictions and, over the coming months, the electronic prescription service will quickly evolve to include schedule 2 and 3 controlled drugs. With this, the generation of inclusive electronic prescriptions will become the norm, significantly increasing the number of electronic prescriptions generated in GP practices.

The inclusion of controlled drugs in EPS doesn’t sound very sexy, but in the world of digital prescriptions this is real progress in how prescriptions are generated, managed and fulfilled. EPS is an exciting catalyst for change in the world of medicines management.

Looking to the future, we must build on the success of the EPS to deliver innovation in the medication management market; expand coverage across care settings and facilitate greater cross-system medicines interoperability.

Head and shoulders of Ian Lowry Ian Lowry is Director for Digital Integration at NHS Digital 

Last edited: 12 March 2019 2:45 pm