Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) should work with community pharmacy to improve interoperability and data sharing within and between systems, the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) has recommended.

In its eighth report on digital transformation in the NHS, published on Friday (30 June), the HSCC drew attention to the ‘slow progress’ and lack of clarity around pharmacy access to patient records.

And it highlighted the limited functionality of the NHS app because it does not fully integrate with pharmacy systems.

The report points to written evidence from pharmacy multiple Boots, which said that progress towards shared care records that could share information between different parts of the health service had been ‘slow’, and that there was ‘significant variation in data governance and technical system solutions which will slow future progress’.

And the committee expressed concerns that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) only set targets and funding related to electronic records – which would not necessarily be interoperable.

In fact, the report highlighted calls from the pharmacy sector for clarity on whether providers would be able to view and amend records, amid indications that the scope of the commitment to ensure access to shared care records for constituent organisations of an ICS was unclear.

The HSCC report also flagged concerns that an over-emphasis on digitising care records in hospitals might detract from developing solutions in other parts of the ICS.

The LIFT Council – an umbrella body for independent organisations delivering healthcare infrastructure in partnership with the NHS – suggested that solutions should encompass community care and mental health services rather than just focusing on hospital settings, noted the report.

The committee concluded that the DHSC, NHS England (NHSE) and ICSs should work together to develop a standards framework to be adopted by all ICSs, as recommended in the Hewitt Review.

And it said that this ‘should include working closely with sectors that could feed into shared records in the future, including pharmacy, mental health and community health, to ensure that what is put in place meets their needs’.

‘This should improve interoperability and data sharing within and between systems,’ the report suggested.

The committee also recommended that:

  • The government allow NHSE to move away from Agenda for Change pay scales in order to recruit data, digital and technology specialists who can deliver the digital transformation required
  • DHSC sets out the benefits of using technology, including the NHS App, and address risks and patient concerns
  • DHSC and NHSE set out a timetable for introducing the new ‘native’ NHS App and a plan for how its benefits and features will be communicated to users of the current ‘portal’ version
  • Non-digital channels remain available
  • The wider workforce, including clinicians and frontline staff, are given the time, headspace and training to allow them to fully engage with digital transformation

Health secretary Steve Barclay recently outlined his commitment to investing in technology in a speech at the NHS Confed Expo.

He also said that DHSC was working to combine the recent investment in Pharmacy First and the Pharmacy Contraception Service with work being done on the NHS app.

And the recent NHS Mandate directed NHSE to develop and deliver the necessary underpinning IT improvements for the new services.

What would need to happen behind the scenes to enable pharmacy teams to deliver clinical services and manage patients’ records appropriately?

The Pharmacist spoke to Dan Ah-Thion, community pharmacy IT policy manager at Community Pharmacy England to find out.