The Department of Health has stopped any more primary care trusts from applying to take part in Release 2 of the Electronic Prescription Service, blaming slow progress from system suppliers.

The roll-out of EPS R2 began in Leeds almost 20 months ago with one GP practice and one community pharmacy. But since then, only seven further GP practices and 30 pharmacy sites have begun using the system.

EPS R2 was originally due for roll-out in 2007. This week, Tim Donohoe, director of programmes and operations at NHS Connecting for Health, and Susan Grieve, DH principal pharmacist, wrote to PCTs to tell them the scheme will be closed to new PCTs with immediate effect.

Donohoe and Grieve said “system availability” was limiting the roll-out so the DH has decided to stop further PCTs from applying at the moment.

Latest information on supplier systems, published by CfH in January, shows TPP was planning a January maintenance release “to resolve the major outstanding EPS R2 defects”.

R2 functionality will not be built into EMIS LV and PCS, but EMIS Web was completing testing in pilot sites and a final build was due “imminently to close down outstanding defects”.

Meanwhile, first of type deployments for EPS R2 had begun for INPS. This week, the DH told EHI Primary Care that TPP, INPS and EMIS Web were all currently being used in EPS R2 pilot sites.

Of the dispensing systems, Cegedim Rx’ s Pharmacy Manager software is the only system with full roll-out approval. In August it received approval to deploy to 200 sites, but has yet to reach 40.

EPS R2 allows patients to nominate a pharmacy from which to pick up their prescriptions and GPs to send prescriptions electronically to those pharmacies.

Donohoe and Grieve’s letter says the DH needs to carefully manage the deployment of R2 to avoid patients not being able to access their medicines or the pharmacy market being distorted.

The original plan for doing this was to manage the number of PCTs taking part by requiring them to apply for approval through EPS Authorisation Directions.

So far, 51 PCTs have received approval and 32 more will be added to the directions from 1 May.

However, the letter says: “Unfortunately, information currently available with regard to system supplier deployment shows that system availability is currently acting as a rate limiting step rather than PCTs [being] listed in the Directions.

"With the agreement of our ministers, we therefore do not consider it prudent to proceed with the process to add any further PCTs (in addition to the 83) to the Directions at this stage.”

The DH had given PCTs until 1 March to apply to join the list. The DH said those applications would now not be assessed, although they would be “kept on file” until new dates for additional tranches of PCT approvals were published.

A DH spokesperson told EHI Primary Care that 12 PCTs had submitted applications by 1 March.

She added: “The coalition government is committed to realising the benefits of EPS, which will play a key role within the NHS modernisation agenda.

"[It will help] to give patients increased convenience and choice and supporting the delivery of administrative efficiencies foir frontline GPs and pharmacists.”

By 25 February, 43,304 EPS R2 prescriptions had been dispensed covering 99,711 prescription items, and 9,239 nominations had been set.

The DH said PCTs not listed in the directions should ensure they achieve key ‘foundation stage’ deliverables in preparation for the full roll-out of EPS R2 in their areas.