The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is inspecting pharmacies linked to online primary care services, following alarming information released today (March 3rd) by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

CQC inspections of some companies that provide online primary care found “significant concerns” about patient safety.

Some were too quick to sell medicines without doing enough to check whether they were appropriate, meaning that patients could be at risk of harm. It is therefore urging the public to act with caution when considering buying medicines on the internet.

In a joint statement, four regulatory bodies – CQC, the General Medical Council, the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency – have reminded providers and healthcare professionals working for these services that they must provide safe and effective care, including following professional guidelines.

The statement says: “Technological advances have brought opportunities to deliver healthcare in new ways, including online primary medical services. Potentially, this innovation allows patients easier access to care and treatment when they need it.

“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 continue to work closely together to share intelligence where we have concerns and take action where necessary to protect patients. We will ensure providers and clinicians are clear on their responsibilities to protect people who use their services and deliver safe, high quality care.”

The CQC has published reports based on urgent inspections of two providers of digital primary care, MD Direct, which had traded through the website assetchemist.co.uk, and HR Healthcare Ltd, whose website was called treated.com. Inspectors found that the two providers demonstrated significant clinical safety and organisational risk to patients, with widespread failings to provide safe care.

Immediately after the inspections, CQC suspended the registration of HR Healthcare Ltd. MD Direct responded to CQC’s concerns by voluntarily cancelling its registration. Both providers have stopped providing services to patients in England, although assetchemist.co.uk now uses an alternative online GP provider for its prescription service.

Following an internal review of all 43 online services that are registered, CQC has brought forward a programme of inspections prioritising those services it considers as potentially presenting a significant risk to patients.

Using these websites, patients can ask a doctor to prescribe from a range of medicines. If a prescription is authorised by a doctor registered with the GMC or a qualified EU doctor, a pharmacist can lawfully supply the medication as specified.

Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, 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.”

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