The functionality that will allow community pharmacies to update GP patient records with Pharmacy First consultations is in the ‘process of getting ready to go live’, NHS England (NHSE) has said.

Since the service launched on 31 January, community pharmacies have been able to send details of patient consultations to GPs via existing processes previously used for Community Pharmacy Consultation Scheme (CPCS) appointments.

This would usually involve information being emailed to the GP where it would be manually added to the patient record.

While the Pharmacy First funding included an allocation to develop ‘interoperable’ patient record systems between community pharmacy and general practice, the GP side of the system was not ready for the system’s launch.

In a parliamentary inquiry into pharmacy this week, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) chief executive Janet Morrison said: ‘I’ve been really impressed by NHS England Digital's ambition for interoperability for the Pharmacy First service with GP systems, but in order to go live at the date ministers wanted it, we agreed a minimum viable product.’

It was agreed that community pharmacy IT systems would begin automatically sending details of patient consultations to general practice clinical IT systems in February 2024, where they would then be checked by a GP.

But the updated functionality is still not live, and practice staff are still required to manually input information, which Ms Morrison acknowledged ‘won't be satisfactory to GPs’.

A spokesperson for NHSE told The Pharmacist: ‘System suppliers are in the process of getting ready to go live with new functionality to update patient records, which will make it easier for pharmacists to share consultation information with GPs.

‘Until all suppliers are live, GPs and pharmacists will continue using existing methods to share consultation information.’

Pharmacy First ‘positive’ despite IT ‘glitches’

At the inquiry on Tuesday, Ms Morrison recounted ‘positive’ feedback that she had heard from the sector, highlighting that pharmacists had found it ‘very satisfying’ to be able to resolve a problem for their patients.

But she acknowledged there had been teething problems with the roll out of the service, particularly relating to IT.

‘It's been a little bit glitchy, as you can imagine with a new service. But the ambition is that pharmacies will be able to access the full patient record, they’ll be able to update the full patient record and they'll be able to make referrals across the whole of the NHS,’ she told the Health and Social Care Select Committee (HSCC).

Ms Morrison also highlighted issues of capacity within pharmacy teams.

She warned: ‘There is a risk with Pharmacy First, that we're deflecting the public and patients to pharmacies and if they can't resolve all of those issues, some of that frustration is just in a pharmacy rather than at the door of the GP.

‘Currently, as you will know when you've been in a pharmacy, the pharmacist is incredibly busy juggling getting hold of the drugs, overseeing queries about dispensing and dealing with pharmacy first queries.

‘Therefore, we need to look at the supervision and skill mix proposals to make sure the direction of travel is there to make better use of the whole team.’

The government has proposed changes to pharmacy supervision that would allow pharmacists to ‘authorise’ pharmacy technicians to carry out and supervise tasks relating to the preparation, assembly, dispensing and sale or supply of medicines.

Both the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Pharmacists’ Defence Association have published their responses to the consultation, which closes next week on Thursday 29 February.