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Use of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) in integrated urgent care settings is to be rolled out nationally following a successful pilot.
It will mean faster processing of prescriptions enabling out of hours and urgent care services to spend more time treating patients.
Patients seeking care out of hours or from urgent care settings such as walk-in centres, minor injuries units or using NHS 111 will be able to have their prescriptions sent electronically to a pharmacy rather than relying on paper prescriptions.
The service will free up time for doctors and other healthcare workers issuing prescriptions and for pharmacists dispensing those prescriptions, meaning there is more time for patient care.
Pilots in London and the East Midlands took place from December and involved 73 prescribers and 257 dispensers.
Initially the service will be available to settings running the Advanced Adastra system, which accounts for the majority of urgent care settings. NHS Digital is working with other suppliers to develop this functionality in their systems.
Dr Vishen Ramkisson, senior clinical lead at NHS Digital, said: "Reducing winter pressures on the NHS has become a catalyst for change, resulting in new levels of digital innovation that will have profound benefit to patients, care providers and local pharmacies.
"This is a significant step in extending the benefits of digital prescribing, providing a faster, better and more efficient system for patients, doctors and pharmacists.
"Faster processing of prescriptions from NHS 111 and out of hours will enable those services to treat more urgent cases or spend more time treating each patient.
"And a patient who requires nothing more than a short-term supply of an existing medication will no longer need a face-to-face consultation with a clinician."
Zafar Khan, director and superintendent pharmacist at Zafash Limited, a 24-hour pharmacy in London, said:
"Receiving electronic prescriptions as part of the London pilot has meant we've been able to provide dispensing services to more patients who need medication urgently, especially overnight and out of hours.
"As a 24/7 pharmacy, we can dispense medication any time day or night. Doctors in the pilot have been able to see that we are open and where we are located, and then give patients the option to come to us to ensure they get the medication they need as soon as possible.
"By avoiding common delays due to faxing and emailing prescriptions, or patients having to drop off their paper prescriptions in person, dispensed medication has been ready for collection when patients arrive, saving them waiting time and inconvenience."
Nick Wilson, managing director of Public Sector, Health & Care at Advanced, who are the first system supplier to develop this additional functionality, said:
"The problem of getting medication out of hours often results in patients going to A&E. Now, following a telephone consultation with 111 or the out-of-hours service, a prescription can be sent electronically to the closest open pharmacy, allowing patients to quickly receive the medication they need.
"This is a fantastic example of our partnership with both NHS England and NHS Digital to introduce such an innovative service so quickly, and one that will have profound benefit to patients, care providers and local pharmacies alike.
"Following successful clinical trials to ensure this is safe and secure, it's exciting to see this roll out across the rest of England."
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The electronic transfer of prescriptions via EPS is now available in the Adastra call management solution produced by Advanced. It is used by the majority of 111 and urgent care services across England.
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