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Online pharmacies selling prescription-only medicines without ‘robust checks’

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Some pharmacies were found selling high-risk and potentially addictive medicines, including benzodiazepines and antidepressants, based on online questionnaires

A BBC investigation has found 20 UK online pharmacies selling prescription-only medicines without adhering to the regulatory standards, such as checking for GP approval or patient’s medical records.

The news organisation was able to purchase over 1,600 restricted pills, including anti-anxiety drug, painkiller and sleeping medication, from these regulated online pharmacies easily by providing false information.

However, the report didn’t mention the names of the drugs as “they can be dangerous when taken without medical guidance.”

Some pharmacies were also found selling high-risk and potentially addictive medicines, including benzodiazepines and antidepressants, based on online questionnaires and did not require further checks.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), which regulate online pharmacies in the UK, states that selling and supplying medicines at a distance brings “different risks which  need to be appropriately managed to protect patient safety.”

GPhC Chief Executive, Duncan Rudkin, said: “The BBC’s undercover investigation raises very serious concerns. We have asked the BBC to provide further information so we can urgently look into these concerns and take action to protect patients and the public.”

“Increasingly people are choosing to access healthcare services online. There can be significant benefits for patients using online services to get medicines and treatment but there are also significant risks that need to be managed to protect patient safety.”

Responding to the BBC’s investigation report, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said: “There is no excuse for poor professional practice or inadequate systems of care in the safe supply of medicines.

“All registered pharmacies, including online services, must safely supply medicines or face robust and appropriate sanctions from the regulators in this space.”

It has asked the three regulatory bodies that are involved in the supervision of online pharmacies, namely the GPhC, the Care Quality Commission and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), to use their enforcement powers to help eradicate poor professional practice by online providers.

Reacting to this news report, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has also reiterated it advice to pharmacists working in online settings, which was issued in July 2022.

It reminded online prescribing pharmacists about the specific risks associated with remote prescribing using a questionnaire-based model, typically with no direct prescriber/patient interaction.

 

 

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