Community pharmacists are to be given access to the NHS Summary Care Record, the Health and Social Care Information Centre has announced.

The move, which follows a long campaign for access by pharmacists, and a pilot at 140 sites, will be backed by £7.5 million of investment in training, and will start this autumn.

In a statement, the new minister of state for community and social care, Alistair Burt, said: “Pharmacists are an untapped resource in our health service – as experts in medicines, they can help people to manage their conditions and take some of the pressure off our GPs.

“That is why it makes complete sense to give them the ability to access a patient’s summary care record, where appropriate. I encourage all community pharmacists to get involved and further improve the care we give people in their communities.”

The NHS Summary Care record was one of the key projects of the National Programme for IT in the NHS. It was intended to create the ‘national’ element of the integrated care records service that it set out to deliver.

However, it was held up for years by rows about consent and confidentiality that mirror the present arguments about the programme.

It was eventually given the go-ahead by the coalition government, but was restricted to holding a limited amount of data – allergies, medications and adverse reactions – and to being used in a limited number of care settings.

NHS Connecting for Health, the organisation that ran NPfIT, had planned to give community pharmacists access, and started pilot projects, but these were stopped by the difficulties with the wider roll-out.

The HSCIC said today that a report on the latest pilot programme had shown that access to the SCR helped pharmacist to avoid sending patients to other NHS care settings.

It also said that in 18% of encounters in which the SCR was accessed, the risk of a prescribing error was avoided.

In a joint statement welcoming access to the SCR, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Pharmacy Voice, and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, gave a specific example in which a pharmacist in Sheffield was able to spot that a patient was allergic to penicillin, and avoid dispensing prescribed Amoxicillin.

The statement added: “There has long been consensus across the profession that widening access to health information to community pharmacy will enable safer, better and more accessible care.

“Patients can be assured that their records are safe, as they can only be accessed by a registered pharmacists or pharmacy technician using an NHS smartcard or PIN, and only after the patient has given consent.”

The pharmacy organisations now want to go a step further, and enable their members to add information to electronic health records, with patient consent.