Almost a third of current General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) fitness-to-practise (FtP) investigations relate to pharmacy professionals who work in online pharmacies, the regulator has said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the GPhC told The Pharmaceutical Journal on 20 July 2022 that the regulator had 600 open FtP investigations — of which just over 30% involved individuals working within online pharmacies.
“Due in part to the prescribing models some online services are using, we have seen a large increase in referrals from members of the public, coroners, clinicians and our inspectorate which concern unsafe prescribing or prescribing outside scope of practice and the level of harm caused or risk posed,” the spokesperson said.
“The action we are taking in FtP is in direct response to the risk posed by these practices.”
This follows an alert sent by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) on 18 July 2022, which said that “recently there has been a dramatic increase in action being taken by the GPhC against pharmacist prescribers associated with certain types of online prescribing services”.
The PDA said it was aware of at least six pharmacists who had, within previous weeks, been subjected to Interim Order applications and “either been suspended or had significant restrictions placed upon their registration pending a full Fitness to Practise hearing into serious allegations being made about their prescribing practices”.
All six pharmacists, it said, were — or had previously been — “associated with online prescribing services that are not subject to regulation by a UK regulator”.
It emphasised that all pharmacist prescribers must be familiar with and follow the latest prescribing guidance issued by GPhC.
Speaking to The Pharmaceutical Journal in June 2022, Gisela Abbam, chair of the GPhC, also said that the regulator had “a number of fitness-to-practise cases involving pharmacy professionals, who were or are working in online pharmacies”.
In response to the GPhC figures, Mark Pitt, director of defence services at the PDA, said that the association is “aware that the GPhC has recently stepped up its activity in this area and is seeking to suspend some pharmacists regarding allegations related to their prescribing practices”.
“These pharmacists are currently or have previously prescribed for patients that come through unregulated websites who used a questionnaire completed by patients,” he said.
Pitt added that “there are significant gaps in the regulation of online pharmacies who work with pharmacist prescribers, which has allowed this highly lucrative sector to grow unchecked and increase the risk to patients”.
In April 2022, analysis by The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed that online pharmacies were eight times more likely to fail regulatory standards.