Four websites selling prescription medicines are potentially putting patients “at risk of harm” through bad practice, the UK’s healthcare regulator has said.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has reprimanded the sites, some of which were approving medicines such as antibiotics for sale after taking just 17 seconds to review questionnaires filled out by patients.
The news comes after fears were raised that the widespread online availability of antibiotics risks creating untreatable “superbugs” by fuelling antimicrobial resistance.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, head of the Royal College of GPs, said the CQC were “absolutely right to take a hard line against this”.
“We cannot tolerate a laissez-faire attitude towards dispensing of prescription medication; they are not sweets,” she said.
The CQC is cracking down on the 43 pharmacies that are registered to trade online in the UK after two lost their registered status after failing to meet expectations.
Of the four sites now named by the regulator, one has had its registration suspended, one has had conditions imposed on it, one was been instructed to improve its practice and the fourth received a warning notice.
Insufficient checks on patients’ identity, poor recording of medical histories, inappropriate medicines being prescribed and lack of communication with the patient’s GP were all described as reasons for the sanctions by the CQC.
“It is understandable that people want convenient access to advice and medicines, but it is important that providers do not compromise on patient safety, said Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector of General Practice at the Care Quality Commission.
“We expect the same standards of quality and safety to be met as we would see in more traditional GP settings – this is exactly what people deserve.”
Doctor Matt Ltd, which has had its registration suspended until the end of June, was found to be issuing prescriptions after reviewing patient questionnaires, with details of their medical history, in under 20 seconds.
Frost Pharmacy Ltd was given a warning for prescribing asthma inhalers in large quantities without performing checks on patients’ conditions or diagnosis, while White Pharmacy's prescription powers were restricted after it was found to be prescribing a high volume of opioid-based medicine without confirming patients’ medical or prescription histories.
i-GP Ltd has been told to make improvements in a number of areas after weaknesses were found in its system to verify and identify patients.
Last month, CQC warned the public to act with caution when considering using websites selling prescription medicines.
“We were shocked and disappointed last month to hear about the apparent minimal security checks on some websites to ensure patients are obtaining prescription drugs appropriately,” said Ms Stocks-Lampard.
“It’s concerning today to see reports that this is more widespread – and the CQC are absolutely right to take a hard line against this.”
Neal Patel of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society told The Independent he welcomed further scrutiny of such sites, which are often “a shopping list of antibiotics”.
He questioned whether antibiotics should be available to purchase online at all given the public health issues at risk, saying: “We really need to conserve their use to make sure we only use them when we need to, so they can be as useful to us for as long as possible.
“Until we see standards that replicate what’s available to people face-to-face ... we want to see those before [antibiotics] are available online,” said Mr Patel.
A correction was issued by the CQC on 6 April stating that Frosts Pharmacy Ltd had been issued warning notices and had not had restrictions placed on it as The Independent had previously been told