The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has issued a warning relating to online prescribing services after identifying serious patient safety concerns.

It has reminded pharmacy owners and professionals to adhere the guidance for providing pharmacy services at a distance, including on the internet, whenever they provide online pharmacy services.

GPhC said, “Our inspectors are continuing to identify serious patient safety concerns relating to registered pharmacies dispensing of prescription-only medicines from prescribers based in the EEA working alone or for third-party online prescribing service using online questionnaire-only based models.”

Its Director of Insight, Intelligence and Inspection, Claire Bryce-Smith, has written to organizations representing pharmacies and pharmacy professionals asking them to remind their members and networks of the importance of meeting the standards and following the guidance.

Claire’s letter highlights that since April 2019, enforcement action has been taken against over 40 pharmacies linked to their provision of online pharmacy services.

The majority of these pharmacies were working with online prescribing services that were prescribing medicines that are liable to abuse, misuse, and overuse to people, on the basis of an online questionnaire. The pharmacists involved have also been referred for Fitness to Practise investigations.

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has welcomed an announcement from the regulator about “Patient safety concerns relating to online prescribing services.”

“As a pharmacist led organisation with extensive experience of situations where these issues have occurred, the PDA supports members to protect patients and reduce their exposure to personal risk,” it said in a statement.

Mark Pitt, Director of Defence Services at the PDA, says: “The PDA is seeing a significant uplift in members seeking support and legal representation regarding regulatory investigations into online prescribing pharmacies. Our employment legal team are also representing pharmacist whistle-blowers who are concerned about poor patient care, through swift and effective intervention to protect their legal position.”

Members who are concerned about unsafe practices by their employer should contact the PDA service centre for advice at the earliest opportunity by emailing [email protected].

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