Scottish government passes law change to close gaps in regulation of independent pharmacist-run clinics

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in Scotland who wish to provide an independent clinic must now register with Health Improvement Scotland.
Medical waiting room

The Scottish government has passed a legislative change to allow regulators to oversee independent clinics where services are provided by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

The change will also give Health Improvement Scotland (HIS) oversight of wholly online services that are based in Scotland, a policy note said.

The legislative amendment, which came into effect on 19 June 2024, is aimed to “increase public safety and avoid situations where pharmacists and pharmacy technicians provide services from unregulated clinics … and where wholly online providers are able to provide services to patients in Scotland without being regulated”.

The policy note added that changes to the NHS (Scotland) Act 1978 are “particularly urgent” because online healthcare services have not fallen within regulation by HIS, which is considered a “public health risk”.

In 2021, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) submitted proposals for similar changes to legislation in England that would improve its ability to regulate independent primary care providers that are currently “putting people’s lives at risk”.

It followed a coroner’s report on the prevention of future deaths, which recommended the CQC take on the regulation of all online prescribing services accessible by patients in England.

The coroner submitted the report after the death of Katie Emma Corrigan from “excess consumption of codeine” that had been obtained from online pharmacies.

The legislative change in Scotland means pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who wish to provide an independent clinic must now register with HIS; however, they will have a one-year grace period until 18 June 2025.

After this time, it will be an offence for a clinic to be provided by a pharmacist or pharmacy technician who is not registered with the regulator.

The legislation does not apply to services provided in registered pharmacies and those under an NHS contract.

The amendment follows a public consultation in 2023, in which the majority of respondents agreed with the proposals, the policy note said.

HIS regulates independent healthcare services in Scotland, including independent hospitals and independent clinics.  

A spokesperson for HIS said: “Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will be included in the definition of an independent healthcare service. There will be a 12-month transition period for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to register with HIS. 

“Services provided by the NHS and from GPhC [General Pharmaceutical Council]-registered pharmacies are exempt from regulation by Healthcare Improvement Scotland. 

“HIS will continue working with GPhC to inform its registrants of the circumstances in which there will be a requirement to register with HIS.”  

The spokesperson added that HIS does not hold information about the potential number of unregistered pharmacists and pharmacy technician-led services in Scotland.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, June 2024, Vol 312, No 7986;312(7986)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.321457

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