More than 85% of primary care prescriptions in England are now processed electronically, after a rise in use of the service during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Latest data, covering April 2020, shows that 86% of prescriptions dispensed within primary care in England were processed using the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS).
That is an increase of more than 10 percentage points since February, when the usage was 73%. In April 2019, usage was 68%.
EPS saves the NHS time and money by reducing the amount of paper processing required by GPs, pharmacists, non-medical prescribers and the NHS Business Services Authority.
It has benefitted patients and clinicians during the coronavirus crisis as processing prescriptions electronically reduces the need for face-to-face contact and unnecessary journeys.
During April this year, use of EPS was expanded into GP Access/virtual hubs, walk-in centres and out of hours settings. This expansion and focus on increasing the use of EPS in urgent care has contributed to increase in prescriptions processed using this system.
In EPS, patients can choose or ‘nominate’ a pharmacy and/or Dispensing Appliance Contractor (DAC) for their prescriptions to be sent to electronically.
One-off nomination is now available in many GP practices and other care settings, allowing prescriptions to be sent to an alternative pharmacy without affecting patients’ existing nominations and avoiding the need for paper.
Sam Robinson, Associate Director of Live Services at NHS Digital, said: “Sending prescriptions electronically not only increases efficiency and saves the NHS money, it also helps patients and staff practice social distancing by reducing contacts.
“We are proud that EPS is supporting clinicians and prescribers to care for patients during this challenging time.”
Latest figures show that 54% of GP practices are now using Phase 4 of EPS, which allows the service to be used for patients without a nominated pharmacy and prescriptions to be downloaded using the unique prescription ID. Roll-out of EPS Phase 4 began last November.
GPs have also been encouraged to transfer patients to electronic repeat dispensing (eRD). This means that for patients with regular medication, a batch of prescriptions can be issued which will be available, at set intervals, to the patient’s nominated pharmacy. Medication can therefore be prepared in advance by the pharmacy, without patients having to request it from their practice each time. Before dispensing the medication, the pharmacist will confirm it is still safe, appropriate for the patient and that they still require a supply, and answer any questions they may have.
The need for patients to individually consent to being moved to eRD has temporarily been suspended to enable increased use during the coronavirus response. Practices in England may transfer any clinically suitable patient onto eRD if they have already agreed to receive electronic prescriptions by nominating a pharmacy, or where the practice can issue non-nominated EPS prescriptions. Patients are being contacted to inform them of the change.