Ling House Medical Centre and Co-operative Group Pharmacy in Keighley, West Yorkshire, have become the sites to use Electronic Transmission of Prescriptions (ETP) under the National Programme for IT.

A limited initial ETP service, which uses the Patient Demographic Service of the NHS Spine, went live on 21 February allowing patient prescriptions to be electronically transmitted from the medical centre to the community pharmacy next door.

The practice and pharmacy are the first of a series of initial implementer sites being established to prove the technical stability of NPfIT’s ETP system and to look at how local prescribing and dispensing processes in the context of the new service.

Staff at the practice link to the electronic prescribing service through the practice system supplied by the Phoenix Partnership, which has become the first GP system supplier to become ETP compliant under NPfIT. The Phoenix Partnership confirmed that the work on ETP has been done directly with NPfIT rather than through Accenture the Local Service Provider for the North east.

NPfIT says that it plans to ensure that lessons are learned before wider roll-out. For the time being, patients will still get a paper prescription in parallel with the electronic transmission of the prescription. Pharmacist and GP user groups will review the impact of the new service on working practices within surgeries and pharmacies and to provide advice and guidance.

Dr Gordon Cunliffe, of the Ling House Medical Centre said: "Once the full service is implemented patients, GPs and pharmacists will undoubtedly see great benefit."

John Makepeace, Co-operative Group Pharmacy’s general manager added: "ETP will benefit patients, GPs and pharmacists as an integral part of future service developments in community pharmacy."

ETP will eventually allow prescriptions generated by GPs and other prescribers to be transferred electronically to the pharmacy. Prescriptions will also be sent electronically to the Prescription Pricing Authority, the organisation that reimburses community pharmacies for the medicines they have supplied to patients.

Ling House had previously been part of one of the three national ETP pilots that ran between December 2001 and June 2003, and were serving 5,000 patients by the time they were wound down by the DH and ETP was incorporated into the national programme.

Originally due to be rolled out across England by the end of 2006 prior to the advent of the national programme the deadlines for ETP have been extended to the end of 2007. Tim Donohoe, group programme director for NPfIT commented: “For patients, the electronic prescription service will eventually provide greater safety, convenience and more choice."

He added: "It will also provide better information for prescribers and dispensers and a reduced administrative burden in GP practices and community pharmacies."

ETP forms an essential service within the new community pharmacy contractual framework which comes into effect this April. Though most of the essential services in the new contract have to be implemented within six months, pharmacies will have longer to upgrade their dispensing systems and begin operating the service.