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Patient safety

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

Source: OJO Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

The Care Quality Commission is worried that people can go online, self-diagnose, order their own medicine and obtain a prescription with few checks

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.”

Sandra Gidley, chair of Royal Pharmaceutical Society England

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.






Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202410

Readers' comments (2)

  • Just a couple of points:
    Headline seems out of context to body of reporting. CQC is the H&SC system regulator for England not UK, GPhC is the Pharmacy system regulator for GB not UK, MHRA is UK regulator but does not register such providers.
    These on-line services are subject to controls and these have been implemented, in the same way as poor performing pharmacy or GP surgeries have action taken against them on a routine basis.
    Need to keep things in perspective and not give the impression to the public that on-line services are an issue. These have a place in modern healthcare and need to have the appropriate good governance.

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  • Michael Achiampong

    My experience of dispensing online prescriptions is that they prompt me to check with, for example, asthma patients, whether they have an asthma plan or have had a review within the last 12 months.

    On the other hand, I've encountered patients with multiple identities prescribed sildenafil one week; then tadalafil the next; and probably vardenafil the following week! On attempting to challenge such prescriptions with the prescribers, the admin staff on the telephone coolly state: "that's fine". End of conversation.

    So I am glad that finally, the CQC etc are scrutinizing this very lucrative healthcare consumer market.

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