NHS-backed online pharmacies selling 'bleach' as a miracle cure

Henry Bodkin
Regulators are investigating Pharmacy2U for offering a product called Air Oxy containing sodium chlorite, which can cause vomiting and breathing problems.   - www.alamy.com

The largest online pharmacy backed by the NHS has admitted selling a highly potent bleaching agent as a "revolutionary" cure.

Regulators are investigating Pharmacy2U for offering a product called Air Oxy containing sodium chlorite, which can cause vomiting and breathing problems.

It comes amind mounting concerns over the increasing role of online pharmacies after ministers signalled rural pharmacies could close across the country.

Customers who ingested Air Oxy have reported agony including one who said the pain she experienced after taking the liquid was “worse than childbirth”.

The extremely alkaline liquid substance has been promoted by some providers as a treatment for arthritis, high blood pressure and even depression.

Health authorities have previously warned that a similar product, sold as Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) “may pose serious health risks” including kidney failure and poisoning Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Pharmacy 2U, which played a founding role in the delivery of electronically prescribed NHS drugs, described the product as a “revolutionary new breakthrough which can help kill off harmful organisms”.

The scandal emerged after members of the obscure American Genesis II Church were exposed for selling so-called Miracle Mineral Solution, which contained the same agent, as a cure for autism and HIV.

Watchdogs now fear similar products are again slipping through the regulatory net to naive customers, this time via online providers.

It comes after The Telegraph disclosed last month that ministers were planning to allow chemists in rural or deprived areas to close across the UK after the Government cut subsidies by £208million.

The Care Quality Commission has warned about the public using online pharmacies, after discovering firms were putting people at risk by doling out medicines on the basis of online health assessments lasting just 17 seconds.

Air Oxy is manufactured by British firm Health Aid, which continues to provide the substance, although it has removed any online reference to its health benefits following threats from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The firm insists Air Oxy is not harmful and that any bad effects are the fault of patients failing to adequately dilute it.

But the MHRA says products containing sodium chlorite have “no provable or conceivable health benefits”.

Severe stomach cramps and heart palpitations are also among the side-effects reported by patients who have taken Air Oxy.

Until Friday, the substance was promoted on the Pharmacy2U website, although last night a spokesman said the product descriptions were “outdated” and that the firm had stopped selling it “earlier this year”.

The company launched in the late 1990s following an NHS initiative to deliver prescriptions more efficiently, copying business models for mail-order medicine in the USA.

It was the first online chemist to be approved by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, and was awarded a pilot program from the NHS for the electronic transfer of prescriptions in 2001.

Since then, it has expanded to helping patients and GPs manage prescriptions online but in 2015, it was fined £130,000 after being caught selling patient details to an Australian lottery firm.

An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office found the data had been used for the aggressive targeting of elderly and vulnerable patients.

Other retailers who have admitted selling Air Oxy include Weldricks Pharmacy, which has a website and more than 60 stores in the North of England.

The web page of Pharmacy2u, an English mail-order pharmacy.  Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

In its promotional literature the pharmacy appears to state that the product includes “sodium chloride” which is salt, rather than “sodium chlorite” the bleaching agent.

A spokesman said the pharmacy had now removed Air Oxy from its website and begun an inquiry into improving its procurement procedures, as well as contacting customers who had purchased the product.

The Food Standards Agency, which is investigating and working to prevent the sale of products containing sodium chlorite, said in a statement: “The FSA has issued advice that sodium chlorite solutions are not safe and should not be sold for human consumption.”

The Finchley Clinic, a treatment centre and “alternative health products” website, is one of the outlets which has been warned by the MHRA to remove any medicinal claims from sodium chlorite products.

Owner Mark Lester told the Telegraph he had removed such products from sale, but action by UK regulators would not be enough to stop customers buying sodium chlorite from the US.

The clinic’s website formerly provided a comparison chart comparing the relative “bleach” taste of its products.

One variation, Aerobic 07, was described as “A bit bleachy. Not terrible.”

A spokesman for Pharmacy2U told the Sunday Telegraph: “Air-Oxy is no longer available on Pharmacy2U or ChemistDirect.co.uk [a sister website].

“The product descriptions on the site are outdated and are being removed.”

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