Out of hours prescriptions: is there a straightforward solution?

5 August 2013

Stephen Thornton

Last Friday afternoon I sent a tweet expressing my frustration that my GP surgery would be closed until Monday morning, meaning that I would not be able to pick up a repeat prescription over the weekend. The result was the most vibrant twitter exchange I have ever had.

On the one hand, there were those, like me, who commented on the fact that general practice, in common with most other providers in the service sector, should move with the times and be available when most convenient to the customer. 'The 1960s process needs changing to suit 21st century man', said one tweet. I remember a time, some years ago before the last GP contract, when my surgery was open on Saturday mornings. As others have moved with the times, it would seem general practice has gone backwards.

On the other hand, there were many angry GPs. I had expected some negative response but their vehemence surprised me. Did I not realise there were many other more important pressing priorities they were dealing with? People who were really sick needed their attention. One asked, 'why should the goal be 24/7 for anything but emergencies?' This clearly touched a raw nerve of a profession under pressure. I have to say though, the strength of some of the comments made me think this is not just about the GP contract and opening hours but more fundamentally about how those doctors see themselves in relation to their patients. There was no sense of wanting to listen to a patient story, no desire to share with patients the thinking about how a service should be delivered. No, it was suggestive of doctor knows best, knows what is important and what is not.

That said, there were other GPs keen to share with me that they were open evenings and weekends and that they did recognise their patients' needs. Then there were the pharmacists who were full of ideas and thoughtful suggestions. Why hadn’t I arranged for the prescription to be picked up at a pharmacy rather than at the surgery? They have much longer opening hours.

Alongside this were those GPs, pharmacists and patients who pointed to an existing electronic solution that would have allowed my GP to send the request to the pharmacy on Friday night before the surgery closed. Surely, they argued, if the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) was fully up and running everywhere, this simply wouldn’t be a problem. As it says on the EPS website homepage 'EPS enables prescribers – such as GPs and practice nurses – to send prescriptions electronically to a dispenser of the patient’s choice. This makes the prescribing and dispensing process more efficient and convenient for patients and staff.'

It’s interesting that, as someone who is immersed in the healthcare world, I didn’t know about this. Even more interesting was that there appeared to be a number of GPs tweeting that they too were unaware. 'How do we sign up?', asked one. The answer would seem to be to contact either Dr Manpreet Pujara (@EPSdoctor), the GP national lead for the roll out of EPS or Mohammed Hussain (@EPSPharmacist), the national pharmacist lead for the same. Meanwhile, I will be calling my practice today to suggest they do the same.

Stephen is Chief Executive of the Health Foundation

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