Use of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) is being pushed out nationally across urgent care settings following a successful pilot.
The decision means patients seeking treatment from participating walk-in clinics, minor injuries units and NHS 111 will be able to have their prescriptions sent electronically to a pharmacy.
Initially, the service will be available to clinics running the Advanced Adastra patient management system, which is used by the majority of urgent care settings.
The switch to EPS will not be mandatory: instead, NHS Digital hopes to encourage providers to move to the system in line with its paperless agenda targets.
Digital Health News understands that six providers are due to be upgraded to the EPS-enabled version of Advanced Adastra by May, followed by a phased switch-on across London over the following two months.
Approximately 20 providers are expected to have upgraded by the summer.
Dr Vishen Ramkisson, senior clinical lead at NHS Digital, said: “Reducing winter pressures on the NHS has become a catalyst for change, resulting in new levels of digital innovation that will have profound benefit to patients, care providers and local pharmacies.
“This is a significant step in extending the benefits of digital prescribing, providing a faster, better and more efficient system for patients, doctors and pharmacists.
“Faster processing of prescriptions from NHS 111 and out of hours will enable those services to treat more urgent cases or spend more time treating each patient.
Pilots in London and the East Midlands took place from December and involved 73 prescribers and 257 dispensers.
When treating a patient, doctors are able to see which pharmacies are open nearby and advise patients where they can pick up their medication as soon as possible.
Patients who require urgent care, particularly out of hours or during the night, are therefore able to access dispensing services.
As well as freeing up time for healthcare workers issuing prescriptions and pharmacists, patients who require repeat supplies of ongoing prescriptions will no longer need a face-to-face consultation with a clinician, theoretically meaning more time for patient care.
Nick Wilson, managing director of public sector, health and care at Advanced, said:
“The problem of getting medication out of hours often results in patients going to A&E. Now, following a telephone consultation with 111 or the out-of-hours service, a prescription can be sent electronically to the closest open pharmacy, allowing patients to quickly receive the medication they need.
“This is a fantastic example of our partnership with both NHS England and NHS Digital to introduce such an innovative service so quickly, and one that will have profound benefit to patients, care providers and local pharmacies alike.
NHS Digital is now working with other IT suppliers to integrate EPS functionality into their systems.