A lack of access to patient data is the biggest issue facing community pharmacists in Scotland, the national director for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has told.

While community pharmacists in England are set to gain access to information from patients’ GP records alongside the launch of the country’s Pharmacy First service in January, their counterparts in Scotland are unable to access the similar data despite running a national minor ailments service since July 2020.

In an interview with The Pharmacist last month, RPS director for Scotland Laura Wilson said that digital improvements in Scotland were imperative, especially with the advent of pharmacist prescribing on a more widespread scale from 2026.

‘I think in Scotland, we're really lacking with lack of digital support,’ she said.

While ‘a lot of work’ was being done on digital prescribing and dispensing, ‘we need to really ramp that up and get [that] rolled out’, Ms Wilson told The Pharmacist.

She added: ‘The biggest issue for us is no access to patient data. So how do we get that single source of truth for patients? And how do we get that data to allow [pharmacists] to make clinical decisions, with all the clinical information that they need to do it, and do it properly?

‘I think once we have that we'll be able to then look at what is possible in the community and how we enable [community pharmacists] to do that.’

In particular, Ms Wilson said that a single point of shared patient data would transform communication between community pharmacy and other parts of primary care.

She explained that some pharmacists in Scotland can already access clinical portal and emergency care summaries.

‘So, we have access to patient data, it's just we all need to have access to the same data. And we all need to be able to go into that data or that record [on] the action that we've taken. Because that would then save a lot of duplication – it would save patients having to repeat their story multiple times,’ Ms Wilson said.

‘We only want a patient have to tell their story once. So how do we then get that to all the healthcare professionals that are involved in their care?

‘For us, that would be that single shared patient data. If the pharmacist can put in what the patient has disclosed to them, knowing that it's only going to go relevant people, and those relevant people can then pick that up and then have any input that they felt was necessary – that for me would be transformational for health care and community settings.’

More streamlined referral processes would also benefit the wider primary care team, Ms Wilson said.

‘If you go to your community pharmacist and you have an issue [that needs referring], in all likelihood, they will probably have to refer you to the GP who will then refer you to a further service or a secondary care or some other screening service to find out what that is,’ she said.

‘We could save a lot of time and effort, if that referral could be made directly [from community pharmacy].

‘GPs are expected to act like a kind of funnel for the rest of the healthcare system, and that is not beneficial to anybody.’

And she added: ‘Any pharmacist that I know would be willing to undertake additional training, if it meant the patients got a better service.’

While she said she understood that people might have concerns about sharing patient data, the benefit of enabling community pharmacy access to it – for instance, the value of having a ‘single point of truth’ for a patient’s medications – should make it a ‘top priority’ for Scotland.

‘For patient safety, continuity, and for patient care in the community, that shared patient data would be phenomenal. It would be quite amazing,’ Ms Wilson said.