Almost all prescriptions will be issued electronically from next month, with the final stage of rolling out the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS).
NHS Digital said that from 18 November all of England’s GP practices will switch to using the EPS, with most making full use of it by the end of this year and the remainder by next summer.
It said this will lead to medication details being sent digitally from doctors to a local pharmacy nominated by the patient, where it can be collected after the patient gives their name and date of birth. It should also mean patients will no longer have to visit their GP to get a repeat order for drugs, which will be prescribed for up to a year electronically.
The organisation also forecast that the move save the NHS £300 million a year by 2021 by scrapping paper versions.
The medical information from the records will be held on the NHS Spine secure database, allowing prescriptions to be accessed quickly by GPs and pharmacies.
Patients who want a paper prescription will still be able to request one, but it will be printed with a unique barcode rather than a GP signature. That means they will be able to walk into any pharmacy in the country where the barcode can be scanned by a pharmacist to download details of the medication.
Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “Digitising the entire prescription service is a key part of keeping up the drive to make the NHS fit for the 21st century.
“This will free up vital time for GPs and allow pharmacists to spend more time with their patients, and save millions of pounds a year.”
Dr Ian Lowry, director of digital medicines and pharmacy at NHS Digital, said: “Every prescription that is sent electronically saves money for the NHS by increasing efficiency.
“The system is also safer and more secure, as prescriptions can't be lost and clinicians can check their status online. This is a huge milestone to reach.”
Electronic prescriptions were first introduced 10 years ago and are already used by around 70% of doctors' surgeries in the UK.
Image by jfcherry, CC BY-SA 2.0 through flickr