Just two firms have been given ‘preferred bidder’ status for an e-prescribing framework contract in Scotland that should be completed and signed by the end of next month.

Emis Group, which bought Ascribe, its suite of acute systems and its e-prescribing system in September 2013, looks set to sit alongside JAC Computer Services on the framework, which is seen as a key part of the country’s efforts to digitise its health services.

Scotland’s eHealth Strategic Programme, issued in March 2015 to run to 2017, noted that while health boards have made “significant progress” in rolling out core systems and portals they still have some significant gaps in their electronic patient records and access to them.

Electronic prescribing was identified as an area that “remains predominantly paper-based” in almost all areas except NHS Ayrshire and Arran, and “is viewed as a vital missing-piece of the digital medications jigsaw.”

NHS National Services Scotland went on to publish a tender in June 2015, saying that it wanted to procure a multi-supplier Hospital Electronic Prescribing and Medicine Administration framework. The prior information notice said this would be worth between £10 million and £20 million over four years.

In a statement to Digital Health News, NHS Services Scotland said: “Following the tender process, Emis and one other company, JAC, achieved preferred bidder status.

“Both of these companies will now be placed on a framework and individual health boards may then choose between them. We expect this framework to be completed and signed by the end of September, 2106.

“However, this framework does not promise any business to either company as the final decision is up to individual boards. After any contracts have been signed, notice of these will be placed on the Public Contracts Scotland website.”

Emis Health said the move would give health boards access to its “fully integrated suite of HEPMA e-prescribing, medicines management, and hospital pharmacy systems” all of which can be used with touch screen devices.

It said its pharmacy system is already in use at seven health boards. Duane Lawrence, managing director for Emis Health in secondary care, said it was “delighted to have landed this important business win, which shows our reach across the UK.”

Robert Tysall-Blay, chief executive of JAC said it was also "delighted" to have won a place on the framework. "The funding and focus on hospital e-prescribing as part of the Scottish  e-Health Strategy 2014-2017 will certainly help delivery of one of the central aims of the strategy, which is 'to improve the safety of people taking medicines and their effective use'," he added.

"We look forward to building on the work undertaken by the four health boards in Scotland that are currently using HEPMA from JAC, as well as helping other health boards in delivering on their HEPMA and medicines management strategies.”

E-prescribing has been a focus of attention in England since the start of the National Programme for IT in the NHS, and was included in the ‘Clinical 5’ suite of systems that trusts were urged to focus on when it struggled to re-engage doctors in IT.

Despite this, e-prescribing use remains extremely low, with less than a fifth of trusts making widespread use of e-prescribing, according to NHS England’s own digital maturity assessment.

The first, or ‘Safer Hospitals, Safer Wards: Technology Fund’ was initially billed as an e-prescribing fund, but most of the money was eventually diverted to other projects.

The second, or ‘Integrated Digital Care Technology Fund’ was slashed to fund ‘winter pressures’ in 2014, and trusts and suppliers told Digital Health News’ most recent special report on e-prescribing that this has made it difficult to fund e-prescribing projects in England.