Health secretary plans law changes to drive use of e-prescriptions

Matt Hancock wants to lift limits to ensure almost all prescriptions are issued electronically

Credit: Wolfram Kastl/DPA/PA Images

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock plans to loosen laws restricting the use of electronic prescriptions.

The government’s goal is to expand the possible use of the technology to cover “nearly all prescriptions”. Currently, 63% of GP surgeries across the UK offer their patients electronic prescription services. Over the coming months, the government wants to “support the hundreds of GPs and pharmacies still to make the move”.

Even for those that do use electronic prescribing, there remain a number of restrictions on when the technology can be used. This includes a wide range of medicines – such as strong painkillers – that are on the government’s list of Schedule 2 and 3 controlled drugs, which currently require a paper prescription.

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But regulatory changes to be made later this year will enable the vast majority of prescriptions to be made electronically, according to the government.

Hancock said: “We need to harness technology across the NHS to improve care, save time for patients and make the lives of hard-working staff easier. In an NHS where thousands of GP surgeries already enjoy the benefits of electronic prescriptions, it can’t be right that there are occasions when archaic paper prescriptions still have to be used.”

He added: “As part of our long-term plan, I want the NHS to become the most advanced healthcare system in the world. Electronic prescribing both saves GPs’ time and helps to give patients a better, more seamless experience and ensures every pound of taxpayers’ money is spent effectively.”

The planned legal amendments form part of Phase 4 of the rollout of the e-prescription service, during which the government hopes to drive up the amount prescriptions sent electronically to about 90%. A handful of GP surgeries have already taken part in trials of phase 4, in which they were able to send prescriptions for schedule 2 and 3 controlled drugs electronically. Other practices will shortly be given the same option.

Sam Trendall

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