The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has taken enforcement action against more than 40 pharmacies linked to their provision of online pharmacy services, the regulator has said.
Of these, the majority were working with online prescribing services that were supplying high-risk medicines based on an online questionnaire for patients.
In a letter written to organisations representing pharmacies and pharmacy professionals on 11 August 2021, Claire Bryce-Smith, director of insight, intelligence and inspection at the GPhC, said that the regulator had “patient safety concerns” relating to pharmacies dispensing medicines issued by prescribers located in the European Economic Area (EEA), who are working alone or for online prescribing services.
The letter asks the organisations to remind their members and networks of the importance of meeting the GPhC’s standards and following its guidance for online pharmacies.
“Since April 2019, we have taken enforcement action against over 40 pharmacies linked to their provision of online pharmacy services,” Bryce-Smith wrote.
“The majority of these pharmacies were working with online prescribing services that were prescribing medicines which are liable to abuse, misuse and overuse to people, on the basis of an online questionnaire.”
Bryce-Smith said that inspections found that the GPhC’s guidance on providing pharmacy services at a distance were “not being followed”.
“This meant the dispensing pharmacies did not adequately safeguard vulnerable people who may be trying to obtain medicines which are not clinically appropriate for them. This puts patients at risk of serious harm or death.”
She added: “It is not enough to meet legal requirements only relating to EEA prescriptions. Pharmacy professionals are responsible for ensuring all medicines they supply are clinically appropriate for patients.”
Commenting on the letter, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) said that the concerns of the regulator reflected PDA member experiences.
“The PDA is seeing a significant uplift in members seeking support and legal representation regarding regulatory investigations into online prescribing pharmacies,” said Mark Pitt, director of defence services at the PDA.
“Our employment legal team are also representing pharmacist whistleblowers who are concerned about poor patient care, through swift and effective intervention to protect their legal position.”
The GPhC’s letter comes after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said it had submitted proposals to the government for legislative changes that would close regulatory gaps in online prescribing.
The proposals were submitted in response to a coroner’s report, which recommended the CQC take on the regulation of “all online prescribing services accessible by patients in England”, regardless of the prescriber’s location and the professional group undertaking the prescribing.
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