UK regulator clamps down on unsafe online medicines sites

As two online suppliers of medicines are forced to stop trading, regulators remind healthcare professionals of their duty of care to patients.

Man purchases medicines online

The Care Quality Commission is warning the public to be cautious when buying medicines online after inspections highlighted significant concerns about patient safety.

Urgent inspections of MD Direct (trading through and HR Healthcare Ltd (trading through found significant failings.

Problems included no or minimal identity checks, issues around consent, no systems for contacting or informing the patient’s GP, inadequate history taking, and no assurances that clinicians had relevant skills or qualifications.

Essentially people were able to go online, self-diagnose their condition, order their own medicine and obtain a prescription with few checks, the CQC said.

HR Healthcare Ltd had its registration suspended and MD Direct voluntarily cancelled its registration.

The findings prompted the CQC, General Medical Council and the General Pharmaceutical Council, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to issue a joint statement reminding online providers–and healthcare professionals working for them–of their responsibility to follow professional guidelines.

In the statement, the regulators point out that technological advances have brought opportunities to deliver healthcare in new ways that can be convenient for patients.

But it adds: “We share a joint commitment to ensure that the same safeguards are in place for patients whether they attend a physical consultation with their GP or seek medical advice and treatment online.

“We will ensure providers and clinicians are clear on their responsibilities to protect people who use their services and deliver safe, high-quality care.”

Steve Field, chief inspector of general practice at the CQC, said some online services were putting patients at risk.

“We are particularly concerned that risks to patients may not always be appropriately assessed or managed when they buy medicines online.” He added: “[Online services] must not cut corners.”

The CQC is now visiting every online primary care provider registered with them.

Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC which regulates pharmacies, said: “Where necessary, we are carrying out further inspections of the pharmacies linked to the online primary care services being inspected by the CQC, to assess whether they are meeting our standards and appropriately addressing the issues and risks linked with online prescribing and dispensing.”

Source: MAG / The Pharmaceutical Journal

Sandra Gidley, chair of Royal Pharmaceutical Society England, says that if safeguards to protect patients are not in place, regulators should take action

Sandra Gidley, chair of Royal Pharmaceutical Society England, the professional body for pharmacists, said the Society fully supports the action taken by the CQC.

“Although improving access through the provision of online services can seem advantageous, when this is done without putting in place safeguards that protect patients and the public from harm, we would expect regulators to take action,” she said.

Amanda Dorkes, clinical director of LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, said that as the first-ever online healthcare organisation to register with the CQC, it welcomed rigour in the review process.

“Patient safety must remain paramount,” she said.






Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2017, Vol 298, No 7899;298(7899):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20202410

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