Dispensing GPs fear they could be forced to stop supplying medicines because of the slow development of IT systems to support electronic prescribing.
Under the new version of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS2), the majority of prescriptions will be sent electronically. This will cut the number of patient visits to dispensaries.
But practice IT systems are not compatible with EPS2, because they cannot pull electronic scrips from the NHS Spine. Dispensing doctors believe Connecting for Health (CfH) has not pressurised IT firms enough to design software to allow them to continue dispensing.
Oxfordshire GP Dr Lisa Silver said she asked CfH how EPS would be rolled out to dispensing practices, and what software would be used. 'But it was almost as though it didn't know what I was talking about,' she said.
Nigel Morley, managing director of consultancy Surelines, agreed it was 'a real black hole'.
'The DoH, CfH and the suppliers are just sticking their heads in the sand,' he said.
Dispensing GPs fear that systems they need may not be available soon, and that there is little incentive for suppliers to design systems for the use of just 7 per cent of UK practices. However, GP newspaper understands several suppli-ers are now working on this.
In the meantime, one option is for dispensers is to buy an IT system meant for pharmacies, which could prove expensive.
Geoff McKay, director of consultancy Stirling, said drug wholesalers have an interest in practices continuing to dis-pense. 'Get your wholesaler in and say "I want you to give me a dispensing system, or I'll go to one of your competitors".'
Dispensing Doctors' Association chief executive Dr David Baker said IT systems were a concern, but dispensing practices would survive because DoH plans to phase out paper scrips were a pipedream.
But he said dispensing patients will lose out if suppliers do not develop systems that 'work with dispensing practices as well as with pharmacies'.
A CfH spokesman said EPS2 'will operate for both prescribing and dispensing patients in a dispensing practice and any disruption to the workflow will be minimised'.
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