The National Health Service in Wales could save more than £2 million this year through use of a real-time prescribing support tool which produced savings totaling £1,022,351 in 2007 for 19 of the 22 Local Health Boards (LHBs) in Wales which are currently using it, it is forecast.

ScriptSwitch, the company which supplies the tool, says it is in talks with the three remaining Welsh LHBs and hopes to have nationwide coverage in the near future.

General practitioners have been urged to consider the business case for implementing software such as ScriptSwitch to improve their medicines management and prescribing by the National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Health Care (NLIAHC) in its recent Modernisation Assessment of Designed for Life, the 10-year strategy for NHS Wales.

Savings from use of ScriptSwitch next year are expected to be considerably higher for Wales than in 2007 because some of the 19 LHBs have only recently begun using the system, and also because the country has not yet introduced independent prescribing by nurses and pharmacists.

The biggest savings achieved through use of the system so far have involved generic prescribing of painkillers, statins and a form of aspirin for patients who have had, or are at risk of, a stroke or heart attack.

ScriptSwitch, which developed the software in cooperation with the NHS and has no connections with the pharmaceutical industry, says the tool has been designed to overlay the major primary care clinical systems from INPS, EMIS and iSOFT to provide “clear and unbiased advice” to prescribers, and can save the average general practice around £35,000 a year, or more than £300 million to the NHS as a whole.

However, only around 54 Primary Care Trusts, or 30% of the total in England, are using the system. One which has done so, Southern Norfolk PCT, has reported savings of more than £140,000 across 28 of its practices in its first year.

- According to the NLIAHC report, over 50 million prescription items were dispensed through NHS Wales primary care services in 2005-6, at a cost of over £500 million and representing 17% of total health care spending. All LHBs in Wales are now achieving the 78% national generic prescribing target, however some are achieving almost 85%, indicating further potential for reducing costs across Wales, it adds.

Moreover, a report by the National Audit Office last year estimated that generic prescribing could create savings for the NHS in England of more than £200 million a year.