Entice staff on board with electronic prescribing and the results can be dramatic, reports Varya Shaw

The deadline for the introduction of electronic prescribing in secondary care is 2010. But so far very few hospitals have explored it.

E-prescribing reduces prescribing errors, removing the potential for problems with doctors' handwriting, for example, and can eradicate erroneous changes when transcribing a prescription to a new form. But NHS Connecting for Health, the agency responsible for the national IT programme, says only a 'small number' of trusts have experience of e-prescribing.

Barriers include the time taken by the IT programme to provide the technology and difficulties faced by support companies in setting up systems in the required time.

But two trusts are ahead of the game. Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals foundation trust has been gradually bringing in the technology since 2002. It aims to extend it to all wards in Doncaster Royal Infirmary inside a year.

The trust's objectives were to reduce clinical risk and improve discharge communication. A study showed that, where the technology was used, compliance with the policy rose from 37 to 96 per cent. All the records of the medicine given to patients were accurate, compared to 65 per cent before e-prescribing. Adverse drug events were reduced by 60 per cent.

Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare trust uses the JAC system, which manages prescription, supply and administration cycle.

Senior pharmacist Joyce Bould says the way the system interacts with other systems has caused problems, but 'it's now accepted that this is the way to go. The NHS is recognising it is a safety issue.'