Funding to pay pharmacists for using the electronic prescriptions service was underspent by more than 50% in the last financial year, pharmacy representatives have revealed.

Only £22m out of the £58m allocated for EPS allowances by the Department of Health was spent in 2005-6 but the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) is confident the money will be rolled over into this financial year.

Lindsay McClure, head of IT for the PSNC, said the underspend was a result of the slower than expected rollout of the EPS as pharmacists waited for their system suppliers to pass Connecting for Health compliance testing.

So far only one of the eight commercial system suppliers, AAH, has been given authority to rollout their EPS software together with the in-house system used by Lloyds Pharmacy.

McClure told EHI Primary Care: “It’s frustrating because we are keen to implement ETP (electronic transfer of prescription) nationally as quickly as possible.”

She said the PSNC was currently in negotiations to carry the money over into 2006/7. Pharmacists have been paid a total of £2600 in two allowances to prepare for the introduction of release one of EPS and are entitled to claim £200 a month once they are in a position to start using EPS, that is that they have the compliant software installed, an N3 connection and smartcards.

As yet no deadline had been set for the implementation of EPS but it is likely that one will be agreed at some stage and pharmacists who have not implemented EPS by the given date may have to repay the allowances. However the PSNC issued advice in May underlining that there is no deadline as yet.

McClure added: “The deadline will be set in discussion with us.”

Latest CfH figures for 24 July show that 12,273 pharmacists have now been registered to use a smartcard. There are approximately 10,000 pharmacists in England but users can be registered in more than one organisation so there is some double counting. A total of 2,466,435 prescriptions had been issued using EPS by 17 July.

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