One of the three consortia set up to test electronic transmission of prescriptions (ETP) says an official evaluation does not take account of its later work on the project when the volume of prescriptions processed picked up.

The evaluation commissioned by the government was published on 17 September as part of package of announcements from health minister Rosie Winterton on the future of pharmacy services.

No statement was made on the pilots, merely that the evaluation was now available. The evaluation report says that the pilots showed ETP to be technically viable, but also recorded numerous difficulties experienced by the pilots. Overall it suggested a common national model for ETP should be developed.

However, Transscript, a business owned by Lloyds Pharmacy, which led one of the pilots, has pointed out that the evaluation stopped gathering data at the end of November 2002, while the pilots carried on until 30 June 2003.

A spokesperson said: “From our point of view, it was from January [2003] onwards when we began to see a greater volume of ETP messaging going through and that wasn’t evaluated.”

While the official evaluation judges that it was not possible to say whether the majority of patients who opted for ETP were satisfied overall, research commissioned by Transscript shortly after the pilot closed found that patients were happy.

Focus groups conducted with patients from the East Hampshire PCT, where the pilot took place, found all respondents had been saved journeys to collect prescriptions. While some did not mind collecting their prescription, others were delighted with the changes.

One is recorded as saying: “…saves a lot of time and both because you don’t have to walk down there and walk back… and walk down there… I used to come in here and take them [the prescriptions] down to the chemist and then wait or go down again…it took three or four trips.”

Some felt that ETP would be of particular benefit to less mobile patients or those who lived further from the surgery. All trusted their GP and pharmacist implicitly and agreed that pharmacists should have access to information about their current medication. They disagreed on the issue of pharmacists having access to fuller information from their medical record.

The decision to end the pilots which were serving 5000 patients by the summer of 2003 was criticised ‘ETP Pilots Ended for 5,000 Patients’ (E-Health Media, 3 July 2003) by the consortia running the pilots and GP supporters. Since then, responsibility for ETP development has shifted to the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS and will now be part of the national data spine ‘Electronic Prescription Transfers Added to Data Spine’ (E-Health Media, 3 September 2003).

This move is in line with the evaluation’s recommendation that a common model is needed. The report says that this would take account of wider national needs such as integration with the integrated care record service functions and architecture, secondary care systems and the need to provide information on prescribing patterns, trends and costs.

Transscript commented: “As the ETP pilots ended over two months ago, we now wait to see exactly where ETP fits into the overall NPfIT and how it will be implemented.”