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Online pharmacy advised to seek legal advice over use of drones

The GPhC confirmed it had been contacted by MedExpress about using drones for delivering medicines. But any pharmacy owner considering a new model or method of supplying medicines should be able to demonstrate how they would meet the Standards for Registered Pharmacies. 

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has urged an online pharmacy to seek legal advice over its plans to use drones to deliver medication to customers.

MedExpress has already trialled using a drone to deliver the morning-after pill. In the trial, which took place in Broadstairs, Kent, the drone carried the emergency contraceptive 500 metres in an air-sealed box, and the medication was received securely by the recipient.

The GPhC confirmed it had been contacted by MedExpress about using drones for delivering medicines.

But a spokesperson said that any pharmacy owner considering a new model or method of supplying medicines should be able to demonstrate how they would meet the Standards for Registered Pharmacies, including managing risks to patient safety, ensuring patients’ privacy and confidentiality and supplying medicines safely to patients.

He said the pharmacy would also have to meet other legal and regulatory requirements found in the GPhC’s Guidance for Registered pharmacies providing services at a distance and urged the company to seek legal advice from its insurance provider and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

Naureen Wallj, superintendent pharmacist at MedExpress, said: “Our medication is packed securely in discreet packaging to ensure that patient confidentiality is maintained in line with the Data Protection Act. Whether the medication is transported by air, land or foot, we strive to ensure it reaches patients in top condition. Technology such as drone delivery, allows patients to receive urgent medication in more remote areas, which was not previously possible.”

Drones have sensors to stop them crashing into walls and are currently controlled by operators on the ground. However, if drones were to be regularly used for deliveries, they would need to be automated like driverless cars.

Dwayne D’Souza, director of MedExpress, said: “Amazon is currently working on its Prime Air service — so we don’t see any reason why we should not get in on the act. There is such great scope to enhance the services we already provide. We were very pleased with how the trial went, and we are considering making drone delivery part of our future service — of course this will be a while away yet!”

The government is currently looking at the compulsory regulation of drones.

Neal Patel, head of corporate communications at the RPS, said: “For the moment this feels like a solution looking for a problem. A lot of work has gone into making sure that even people in the remotest areas have access to medication when they need it.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203497

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