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Online pharmacies may breach CD contract terms

By News team

Some online pharmacies may be breaching the terms of their NHS contract by not supplying Controlled Drugs to patients, an investigation by PJ Online has revealed.

As with shop-based pharmacies, online pharmacies are obliged to supply CDs as an essential service as part of their contract with their primary care trust. It was brought to PJ Online's attention that some online pharmacies were not offering this service, and PJ Online took up the investigation.

Three online pharmacies when contacted by a patient said that they could not provide a service against a prescription for morphine sulphate. Reasons such as not stocking the product, it being illegal to send CDs through the post, and not being able to find a courier to carry CDs at a cost-effective price were given for not being able to supply the product.

The primary care trusts for the three online pharmacies contacted said that these pharmacies were in breach of the terms of their contract if they were not supplying CDs and that the PCT would look into the situation. However, when contacted by PJ Online two of the pharmacies denied that they did not supply CDs.

Rowlands Online Pharmacy told PJ Online: “We have a procedure in place to deal with this type of request.” Chemist Direct said that it had “neither received nor refused NHS CDs prescriptions” and that it worked closely with regulatory bodies to ensure it met the necessary guidelines; Chemist Direct had previously stated that it did not stock morphine sulphate when asked by a patient.

The third pharmacy contacted by PJ Online, Pharmacy2u, admitted that it did not supply CDs because the company believed it to be illegal to send them through the post. The company told PJ Online: “It has always been the case that CDs were not to be supplied through postal services, however, if this has changed then we would happily dispense CDs as part of our essential services.”

Sending CDs via post not illegal

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Department of Health have confirmed that it is not illegal to send CDs through the post.

A DoH spokesman said that he believed sending CDs through the post would be bad practice and quoted guidance from the National Prescribing Centre’s “A guide to good practice in the management of controlled drugs in primary care (England) (3rd edition; December 2009)” (PDF, 2.2M): “CDs should not generally be transported via mail, taxi services or equivalent.

"However, in exceptional circumstances, where urgent clinical need dictates, dispensed CDs can be sent to a patient, or stock CDs to premises, via such routes. Where the mail route is used, the CD should always be sent as a special delivery item to ensure the pathway is auditable.”

However, although it is not illegal, the Royal Mail prohibits CDs being supplied through its postal services.

Although PJ Online was not able to establish a best practice method for how online pharmacies should supply CDs, a spokesman for the General Pharmaceutical Council said that a range of issues surrounding online pharmacies would be examined as part of its work around pharmacy premises and the need for standards for superintendents and owners.

The DoH spokesman added: “Items can be supplied remotely. Therefore, there should be no reason, provided an internet operation complies with relevant constraints and safeguards, why internet operations cannot supply CDs.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11069300

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