Electronic prescriptions have become the default method for prescribing and dispensing in primary care in England, new figures confirmed.
The number of items issued electronically to community pharmacies almost doubled in the past 5 years – from 532 million in 2016-17 to 996 million in 2021-22, according to NHS Digital. The transition means that in the latest year, 95% of items were prescribed and dispensed via the electronic prescription service (EPS), compared with 5 years ago when 48% were issued using the once familiar green forms.
The electronic system is more efficient and less time-consuming for prescribers, whilst helping dispensing pharmacies reduce paperwork and improve stock control. There were now 11,400 pharmacies signed up to use the service, the NHS said.
The figures also showed an increase in the number of prescription items dispensed each year, from 1.02 billion 5 years ago, to 1.04 billion in 2021-22.
Rahul Singal, chief pharmacy and medicines information officer at NHS England, said: "When you look at the number of transactions that are made via the service and how much it’s revolutionised practice in general practice and community pharmacy, we’d be pushed to think of another national system that's had more success."
Electronic System Began in 2005
The figures were released to mark the 18th anniversary of EPS. It all began on 6 February 2005 when a Dr Gill in Ling House Medical Centre in Keighley, West Yorkshire, sent a prescription for atenolol electronically to the nearby Co-op pharmacy on Scott Street. It was a Sunday, and both the practice and the pharmacy opened specially to avoid impacting on patients. The event lodged in the mind of Dr Ian Lowry, director at NHS Digital, who said: "I remember it was raining". He recalled: "We fired off some test prescriptions, the pharmacy downloaded them and there it was: it worked. We started dancing around the aisles of the pharmacy."
Gillian Edwards, who was the practice manager at Ling House Medical Centre in 2005, said before EPS they had to deal with "stacks of green prescription forms that GPs had to go through and sign by hand". Dr Adeem Rubani, a GP at the practice, said: "Gone are the days of spending our lunch breaks signing reams of repeat prescriptions", whilst Ms Edwards commented that since EPS took over, "our reception team and prescription clerk have a lot more time to do their jobs".
Looking to the future, Mr Singal said: "Our next focus is to introduce EPS into more care settings, including more health settings such as hospital outpatient departments, so the benefits can be realised for even more clinicians and patients across the NHS."