Release two of the Electronic Prescription Service will not go live until spring or summer this year, at least six months later than initially planned.

Connecting for Health told EHI Primary Care that the initial timetable had been based on indicative timescales from system suppliers but had been delayed because suppliers were not yet ready to test their release two software in a live environment.

A CfH spokesperson said: “Initial implementations for EPS Release 2 are likely to commence during spring/summer 2008. Although two waves of initial implementation PCTs have already been selected for Release 2, currently no GP or pharmacy systems are as yet ready to progress to testing in these live environments.”

Release two offers patients the opportunity to nominate a pharmacy, meaning GPs will be able to digitally sign prescriptions starting with nominated prescriptions, then switching to all prescriptions and will enable pharmacists to submit reimbursement claims electronically. Electronic repeat dispensing will also be part of release two.

Delays to release two have been caused by CfH’s “overly bureaucratic” accreditation system according to GP system supplier EMIS. CfH is attempting to ensure that deployment of release two does not unfairly advantage some pharmacists if some system suppliers are ready to deploy their software before others.

Leon Rudd, customer technology controller for pharmacy system supplier AAH Pharmaceuticals, told EHI Primary Care that AAH was committed to delivering release two EPS to its customers and working with CfH.

He said CfH had discussed release two compliant GP systems deploying in September/October 2008.

He added: “It is important that system vendors are aligned in their approach to Release 2. AAH would like to see GP and PMR system vendors delivering systems to market to ensure a consistent and level playing field as Release 2 is enabled.

“There are significant complexities in the R2 specification around the use of DM+D, role-based access and information governance requirements. In addition to this, AAH is aware that a number of concerns have been raised by system vendors and pharmacy with CfH.”

A spokesperson for Cegedim Rx, system suppliers for almost 60% of pharmacies in England, told EHI Primary Care that it hopes to begin live testing for EPS release two in April.

Sean Riddell, managing director of EMIS, told EHI primary Care that he hoped EMIS would be ready for release two software to be used in a pilot site in May or June which could be brought forward to April if CfH streamlined its processes.

He added: “We are working with CfH at the moment to try and bring that May date forward. We have been delayed on our software but the compliance process that CfH currently have in place is probably very top heavy in terms of the documentation and bureaucracy that goes with it. That’s been acknowledged by CfH and before Christmas we received an overview of how it was going to be streamlined.”

CfH announced in June last year that it had selected five PCTs to be the first wave of initial implementers for release two of EPS starting in October 2007, with a further 12 trusts due to start using release two no earlier than January 2008.

The spokesperson told EHI primary Care that CfH was continuing to support initial implementer PCTs in preparing for release two including distributing dispensing token stationery and production of communication and guidance materials.

The spokesperson added: “They are also helping to identify new ways to encourage further uptake and use of Release 1 systems.”

At its meeting last week the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) discussed the EPS and pointed out that although up to 24% of daily prescription volume is being prescribed via the EPS less that 1% of daily prescriptions are being dispensing using the service.

After the meeting a PSNC report stated: “PSNC is continuing to encourage pharmacy staff to use the EPS service, where practical, to ensure that any problems with the system are identified and can be resolved before EPS becomes business critical. Problems should be reported to pharmacy system suppliers who can escalate the issue to NHS Connecting for Health where necessary.”

The committee is also to undertake a telephone survey of pharmacy contractors in late January and early February to obtain more information on pharmacists’ experiences of using EPS.

A CfH spokesperson told EHI primary Care that it would shortly be publishing information on its website to show the progress made by individual suppliers in developing and testing their systems for release two.