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Regulation in healthcare

GPhC would back CQC move to take on regulation of pharmacist-run online services

Exclusive: The General Pharmaceutical Council has written to the chief executive of the Care Quality Commission, supporting it taking on the regulation of pharmacist-run online services outside of a registered pharmacy.

Older woman using a laptop to buy medicine online

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The pharmacy regulator has encouraged the Care Quality Commission to extend its jurisdiction and close a regulatory loophole on pharmacist-run online services

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has said it is “fully supportive” of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) taking on the regulation of pharmacist-run online services outside of a registered pharmacy, it has told The Pharmaceutical Journal.

The CQC would not confirm whether it has already asked for this change to its regulatory jurisdiction, but said it was “in active discussions” with the government over closing loopholes in the regulation of online healthcare providers.

Currently, online prescribing services have only to register with the CQC — whose regulatory responsibilities include online primary care services — if they employ a listed healthcare professional, which does not include pharmacists or pharmacist prescribers.

The pharmacy regulator previously said in June 2018 that it was holding “ongoing discussions” with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and other regulators about these potential legal loopholes that allow online services run by pharmacists only to go unregulated.

The GPhC has now told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it has written to the chief executive of the CQC expressing its support for the regulator to take on the responsibility of closing this regulatory gap.

“We are fully supportive of the CQC asking for an amendment to its jurisdiction to enable them to regulate clinics and services operated solely with pharmacy professionals (including pharmacist independent prescribers) from somewhere other than a registered pharmacy, and have written to the chief executive on this point last year,” it said. “This would close a regulatory gap within England.”

The GPhC added that it was also working “very closely” with Health Inspectorate Wales and Health Improvement Scotland — CQC counterparts in the devolved nations — on “sharing intelligence where we have concerns” about online prescribing services.

Ruth Rankine, deputy chief inspector of general practice, military health and online services, at the CQC said: “[The CQC is] in active discussions with the DHSC about gaps in the regulatory landscape relating to online providers, and any necessary changes to the regulations to ensure people using these services can access safe, high quality care.”

In a report on online primary health services, published in April 2018, the CQC warned of “gaps in the regulatory landscape” and said it was “working closely with partner regulators to share information and collaborate to minimise gaps”, but added that “this does not completely resolve these issues”.

The GPhC also published a discussion paper in June 2018 on ensuring patient safety when using only pharmacy services, and it says it expects to publish proposals in April 2019.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206414

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