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Northern Ireland pharmacies to go paperless by 2030

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Northern Ireland pharmacies to go paperless by 2030

The Northern Irish government has committed to moving to a fully “paperless” system for prescription medicines by 2030 as part of a strategic vision for the community pharmacy sector – but has warned that the delivery of its plans will be “subject to funding”. 

The Strategic Plan 2030 document, published yesterday (May 7) by the NI Department of Health following collaborative work with Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI), sets out plans for modernising the sector in key areas such as workforce deployment and service development in addition to updating digital infrastructure. 

“The aim is that the while prescribing, dispensing and reimbursement process for prescription medicines should be paperless by 2030,” said the Department of Health. The Department is aiming to award a contract to develop a system for the electronic transmission of transcriptions (ETP) by the end of the 207-28 financial year and launch ETP for pharmacies and patients during 2030-31. 

“Opportunities will also be explored to allow electronic repeat dispensing as new systems become available to increase efficiencies for patients and healthcare practitioners in prescription management processes,” said the government.  

On workforce, key ambitions include developing advanced practice roles for pharmacists to make careers in community pharmacy more attractive and expanding the role of pharmacy technicians once legislation is passed that will see them join the pharmaceutical register.

The Department also said that from 2025 it intends to provide more independent prescribing training places for community pharmacists, adding that by the end of the decade there will be a projected increase of 1,000 qualified IPs as changes to undergraduate degrees are implemented. 

On services, the government said it plans to introduce a new hypertension checking service, long-term contraception supply and upgrades to Pharmacy First, as well as local pilots to “inform the redesign of needle exchange and opiate substitution services” and “enhance access” to hepatitis C and HIV treatments as well as naloxone. There will be an increased focus on disease prevention and the use of diagnostics. 

Health minister Robin Swann said: “I am delighted to give my support to this new Community Pharmacy Strategic Plan, which delivers on a recommendation in the ‘Delivering Together’ strategy to outline a framework for realising the potential of community pharmacy services, and which builds on the previously agreed three-year community pharmacy commissioning plan. 

“I acknowledge the involvement of CPNI working with my officials to develop this plan and am keen that they continue to work collaboratively with my department to realise the vision for the benefit of our population over the coming years.

“Against the backdrop of the current severe budgetary pressures and the multiple demands for additional funding across all parts of health and social care, additional investment continues to be provided to the community pharmacy sector. However, more will be required to fully deliver this strategic plan up to 2030.

“I am very conscious that the community pharmacy sector – like all sectors across health and social care – is keen to see further investment.” 

Chief pharmaceutical officer Cathy Harrison – who spoke to P3pharmacy in December about the challenges of setting a roadmap for the sector in the absence of a functioning Stormont executive – said: “The Community Pharmacy Strategic Plan describes a positive and ambitious vision for community pharmacy in Northern Ireland.

“It outlines how the delivery of planned reforms in the period up to 2030 will provide the public with continued access to medicines from pharmacies plus an increased range of clinical services.

“This will help realise the potential within community pharmacy teams to provide quicker access to care for acute and long-term conditions in local communities, utilising advances in medicines, diagnostics, digital and medical technologies.”

CPNI chief executive Gerard Greene told P3pharmacy: “The new Strategic Plan for Community Pharmacy is something that we have been working with the DoH NI and SPPG on for some time and is to be welcomed.  

“While it is an exciting and ambitious plan for the network and will see community pharmacy teams play a greater transformative role in supporting patients and the wider health service, further urgent investment is needed to underpin and stabilise the current community pharmacy service in Northern Ireland as well as new funding for the implementation of the Strategic Plan going forward. 

“Further discussions are required with the Health Minister and DoH officials before the community pharmacy funding for this plan and indeed 2024/25 can be agreed.”

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