Health Minister Lord Warner is to fast-track the introduction of electronic hospital prescribing in response to the recent report by National Cancer Director, Professor Mike Richards.

Professor Richards’ report stated that cancer drugs recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) are often unavailable in certain areas of the UK, and blames lack of access both to data and to NICE guidance as the main reason for the discrepancies.

“Information is the key lever to change clinical practice,” the report states. “A robust mechanism should therefore be put in place to facilitate prospective audit and timely feedback to networks and individual clinicians on the usage of these drugs in comparison to a national benchmark of usage… To make this possible, it is essential for electronic prescribing systems to be installed in every hospital providing a chemotheraphy service."

Lord Warner hopes that introducing hospital prescribing sooner rather than later will “allow patterns of low prescribing of particular drugs to be identified and addressed." In the meantime, a deal with healthcare information analysis firm IMS, who will analyse and report on prescription data, has been arranged.

A spokesperson for the NPfIT told E-Health Insider: "Electronic prescribing is within the scope of the National Programme for IT in the NHS. The original plans scheduled this functionality for Phase 3 (2008 to 2010) but in view of the potential benefits to patients, clinicians and the NHS, discussions are taking place with suppliers to bring electronic prescribing forward to 2006.

“We do not envisage any increased costs to the overall programme but the analysis underway with suppliers will confirm the detail of any necessary re-profiling."

Health secretary, John Reid, said of the move: "Mike Richards’ report today highlights one area where we need to act; and I am determined to ensure patients across the country have access to drugs which can help them.

“I will be asking the local NHS to set out their plans for improvement in the specific areas highlighted in Mike Richards’ report."

A copy of Mike Richards’ report can be downloaded here. (PDF, 697k)