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British E-Pharmacy Program Hits Milestone

More than a million prescriptions have now been transmitted electronically as part of the ?6.2bn modernisation of NHS IT systems.

The million milestone was passed this week as part of the first stage of the rollout of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS), which aims to replace existing paper prescriptions used by GP surgeries and pharmacies by the end of 2007.

In the first stage of the EPS rollout, GPs print existing paper prescriptions with a unique barcode. When the patient takes this prescription to a pharmacy connected to the EPS the pharmacist can scan the barcode to retrieve the prescription details electronically.

The new system will improve accuracy and safety because prescription information will only be typed in once, avoiding the need to retype it onto the dispenser's system as is currently the case.

More than 1,100 GP surgeries have upgraded their software to be EPS compliant and 346 of those are now using the system.

As part of the second stage of the EPS rollout smartcards will allow GPs to apply an electronic signature to the prescription, making it a legal entity.

This will mean prescriptions can be electronically sent to a patient's nominated pharmacy, cutting out the need for a patient to visit their GP just to collect a paper copy, as is currently the case with repeat prescriptions.

Tim Donohoe, NHS Connecting for Health group programme director, said in a statement: "This is a significant milestone in the deployment of the service. Whilst there is much work still to be done, passing the one million mark demonstrates that the system is working well. We will continue to work with patients and healthcare professionals to ensure that the service meets their needs."

Around 1.3 million prescriptions are issued every day in England, of which 70 per cent are repeat prescriptions.

BT CEO Ben Verwaayen this week backed NHS IT director general Richard Granger, saying that critics of the project had got the scale of the problems out of proportion.

He told The Sunday Times: "Richard Granger is doing a good job. He's one of our most difficult, demanding and therefore capable customers. When you're in a transformation it's easy to say, 'I can see flaws here, here and here'. That's what transformation is all about. My advice is let it run."

Click here to read about the nine projects at the heart of the NHS IT modernisation programme.


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