Spine (NHS IT)

Spine (NHS IT)

What is the Spine?

The ‘Spine’ is the digital central point allowing key NHS online services and allowing the exchange of information across local and national NHS systems.

The Spine connects pharmacy teams with GP practice staff, patients and others.
It provide a key role with allowing the information exchanges needed for:

  • the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS);
  • Smartcards;
  • Summary Care Record; and
  • Patient Demographics services.

The Spine within EPS

Using the EPS, GP practices which are ‘live’ with EPSR2 can digitally issue and sign an EPS prescription, and send the  electronic prescription to the central NHS Spine. The patient’s demographic information is stored on the NHS Spine, and this includes the information regarding their chosen nominated pharmacy.

When staff from the nominated pharmacy team ‘pull down’ (or download) any outstanding prescriptions, they will download the relevant prescription from the Spine so that the pharmacy team can carry out the dispensing, apply endorsement and exemption information to the electronic prescription, and send dispense and claim messages.

The dispense and claim messages will be sent from the pharmacy system to the Spine, so that the Pricing Authority can retrieve the information from the Spine in order to price the prescription.

Understanding possible points of EPS system failure

Read more at Failure points.

Spine alerts

Read more at Spine alerts.

‘Spine2’ developments (EPS)

The contract with BT to provide the Spine ended in 2014. This change has allowed increased flexibility to make changes to the EPS functionality.


The Spine was updated so that pharmacy system suppliers could choose to make new enhancements to improve the systems for pharmacies. The developments which system suppliers may wish to develop following pharmacy requests are:

  • Setting up receipt acknowledgement messages – Spine 2 can confirm when it has received and successfully processed prescription, dispensing and claims messages, rather than only alerting systems when it encounters errors.
  • The ability to amend prescriptions which had been sent to the Pricing Authority – Spine 2 will permit claim messages submitted to the Pricing Authority during a month to be amended later in that same month, to allow adding endorsements or correcting errors in the dispensed product.
  • The EPS Prescription Tracker application, enabled EPS users to search for prescriptions using the patient’s NHS Number.

It will be possible for system suppliers to make these features available after the transition where pharmacy systems introduce them. 

General enquiries regarding Spine services

General enquiries regarding Spine services should be directed to the NHS Digital Spine 2 mailbox.

Technical queries regarding Spine services should be directed to the NHS Digital National Service Desk on 0845 366 0066.

EPS issues can be reported using the usual route.

Related resources

For more information on the future of EPS click on the buttons below:

eps arrow yellow-previous eps box yellow- home- eps box yellow- future eps eps arrow yellow-next


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