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Raising the IT stakes


Raising the IT stakes

I’m happy the IT systems needed to support the clinical vision for pharmacy in Northern Ireland are finally happening but I respectfully request that Fujitsu are not commissioned to develop the claims systems, says Terry Maguire


The year 2024 has a strong IT theme. My fantastic manager has been, in recent months, ruthlessly pointing out that we need an update to our pharmacy computer system.

The system had become slower and slower and was taking so long to boot up that there was time for a quick morning cup of tea while patients waited. When I complained, the IT supplier directed me to the wholesaler with whom I have the IT contract but the wholesaler referred me back to the IT supplier where they claimed the blame lay.

I don’t care who is to blame. I pay for a system to work, not crash, during busy dispensing rushes or when sending orders to wholesalers. Finally, after many threats, and not a little blackmail, a new system was installed in early January and everyone, it seems, is happy.    

There were, of course, the usual snags when any new piece of IT kit is installed.  The Falsified Medicines Directive certificate didn’t copy over, so we had to engage with SecurMed who are always very helpful. Readers may remember the fear I recently expressed that I might be taken off to prison should I not decommission, under current FMD legislation, a certain percentage of the medicines I dispense.

That threat remains but I am happy to report that the Windsor Framework which replaced the Northern Ireland Protocol, has significantly reduced the regulatory requirements on UK licensed medicines dispensed in Northern Ireland.

From next January, according to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, all medicine packs across the UK will be the same and FMD will no longer apply in this small and insignificant corner of the European Union. But my joy was short-lived.

In late January, a wholesaler in England threatened to stop supplies of an essential medicine for a patient with a rare metabolic disease if I did not register online with the UK Treaders Support Service. It seems my EIOR number that I used since Brexit is no longer sufficient and the red tape gets longer rather than shorter.

In mid-January, I was invited to a Zoom training event on IT developments. The Strategic Planning and Performance Group, our health board, is currently giving all pharmacies access to the NI Electronic Care Record (NIECR). This has been a slow project but nonetheless very welcome.

A pilot involving 30 independent prescribing pharmacists who were given access to NIECR two years ago paved the way for wider access. Surprisingly, some pharmacist fear NIECR but as long as you only access your patients’ records and don’t try accessing your ex-wife’s or, for that matter, Rory McIlroy’s, you won’t get into trouble.

NIECR access and secure emails are all the health service IT we have been given so far. The plan to digitalise all pharmacy services, however, is firmly in place, we were told. Go-Pharmacy will be the new platform and will give real patient data in real time for Pharmacy First and other clinical services. No need to send in monthly claim forms.

Elite is a separate IT system for submission of smoking cessation data and claims and the vaccine management system VMS allows electronic claims for vaccinations. Having Go-Pharmacy as a total IT solution to pharmacy services will bring much welcome efficiency.  

The last speaker on the Zoom addressed electronic transfer of prescriptions (ETP). An ETP workstream is in place, business cases are being written and advisory groups are being assembled around large tables. Sadly, it will be some time before we reap the benefits of Go-Pharmacy and ETP. Go-Pharmacy is scheduled for 2028 and ETP, if it arrives on time, will arrive at the end of 2032.

Back in 1985, Keith McLernon’s father, Sam McLernon, sent Keith and I over to meet John Richardson to have a look at the computer system he was developing. It was a day I remember with great clarity as just out of my pre-registration year, talking with the mildly eccentric John, I caught a vision of the real potential for personalised computing to radically change pharmacy practice.

Computers did and McLernon built an impressive business on that. The focus was initially on dispensing, PMRs and business management and this largely remains the extent of their utility. Computers have not realised their potential in supporting clinical developments in pharmacy practice because policy and funding at the Department of Health failed to keep up.

I’ve worked my whole career with a clinical vision for pharmacy and the IT systems to support it and now at my career end, I am happy it’s finally happening but disappointed it will take so much longer.

I would respectfully request that Fujitsu are not commissioned to develop the claims systems.


Terry Maguire is a leading community pharmacist based in Northern Ireland.       


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