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GPhC advises pharmacists to meet regulatory standard to curb risks relating to online services

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The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has raised concerns over the rising risks related to online pharmacy services.

It revealed over 30 per cent of its open Fitness to Practise (FtP) cases were related to online pharmacy, which is disproportionate to the sector of the market that online services occupy.

The regulator has advised pharmacists and pharmacy owners providing online services that they should “not work with online providers who try to circumvent the regulatory oversight put in place within the UK to ensure patient safety”.

In the past five months, the Council has imposed seven interim orders on the registration of pharmacists who have worked for or with online prescribing services — after identifying serious concerns with their practice.

It said: “These pharmacists were working as pharmacist independent prescribers for online services or were dispensing medicines prescribed online. Some of these pharmacists were the Responsible Pharmacist (RP) or the Superintendent Pharmacist (SP).”

The Council continues with its FtP investigations and has a number of ongoing investigations into other pharmacists working for online services and expects to take further action.

The common themes in these cases include- medicines being prescribed to patients on the basis of an online questionnaire alone, with no direct interaction between the prescriber and either the patient or their GP; prescribing of high-risk medications or medications which require monitoring without adequate safeguards; prescribing of medicines outside the prescriber’s scope of practice; and high volumes of prescriptions being issued by the prescriber in short periods of time.

“We have also taken enforcement action against over 50 online pharmacies since March 2019 after identifying patient safety issues during inspections. Only 71 per cent of online pharmacies that we inspected from 2019-22 met all of our standards for registered pharmacies, compared to an overall benchmark of 85 per cent for all pharmacies,” GPhC said in its letter to pharmacy owners.

GPhC added: “We are writing to make you aware of serious patient safety concerns we are continuing to identify relating to some online pharmacies and online prescribing services, and the action we’re taking in response.”

All pharmacists are advised to meet GPhC standards for pharmacy professionals at all times, including one working for an online pharmacy or prescribing service. They should also seek assurances that the service is following the relevant parts of GPhC guidance on providing pharmacy services at a distance, including on the internet.

The Council has advised pharmacist independent prescribers to make sure they follow GPhC guidance for pharmacist prescribers when prescribing.

“You are responsible for making sure that the medicines you prescribe are clinically appropriate for patients and that you are always working within the scope of your practice,” the GPhC said.

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