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Former online pharmacy left GPhC register due to ‘over-regulation’

A former GPhC-registered online pharmacy decided to voluntarily remove itself from the regulator’s register last year due to “over-regulation” and “lack of support from the GPhC”, it has told C+D.

UK Meds applied to be removed from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) register on September 6, with this being granted from September 7, UK Meds managing director Joe Soiza confirmed to C+D on December 20.

“Prior to September 6 2021, UK Meds owned and operated a GPhC-regulated pharmacy, in addition to our portal. During this time, we have always sought to comply with all relevant GPhC guidance and have been quick to address any issues that have arisen following their numerous inspections of our business,” Mr Soiza added.

However, “the concentrated and increased scrutiny, over-regulation by and lack of support from the GPhC, irrespective of the reparatory actions taken by us, led to our decision to return solely to the online portal model”, he said.

In response, a GPhC spokesperson told C+D: “Our role is to ensure there is safe and effective pharmacy care across all settings – whether a pharmacy is community based or online, and whatever technology it is using.

“Where pharmacies – including online pharmacies and pharmacy professionals – have been found not to be following our guidance, we do our best to work with them to resolve issues, but sometimes appropriate enforcement action is necessary.”

In 2020, the GPhC issued an improvement notice to UK Meds. A GPhC spokesperson confirmed to C+D that the company lodged an appeal against the notice, but that this had been withdrawn following the company’s decision to remove itself from the register.

 

How does UK Meds operate now?

 

Mr Soiza told C+D that UK Meds now acts as a “facilitator of access to healthcare services, which are provided by registered and trusted UK healthcare professionals”.

“Our role is limited to facilitating access to such services. This means we don’t directly supply pharmacy (P) [medicines] or prescription-only-medication (POMs) – we merely act as an introducer to and agent for the registered pharmacies that do,” he added.

The company – which on its website wrote it works with UK-registered pharmacies – told C+D that it works with “a number of trusted UK-registered healthcare providers”.

Patients can “select their preferred treatment and start a free online consultation”. This is then reviewed by a “pharmacist independent prescriber” and the treatment can be sent to patients “discreetly within hours”, UK Meds explained on its website.

The company was, however, unable to respond to C+D’s questions on the fee pharmacies get paid for dispensing UK Meds’ prescriptions, as it will not comment on “any commercially sensitive matters”, it said.

 

What services can UK Meds no longer provide?

 

A GPhC spokesperson told C+D on October 29 that, as UK Meds is no longer on its register, it should not:

  • use the restricted title “pharmacy” in connection with a business that consists of, or includes, the retail sale or supply of any goods (in line with Section 78 of the Medicines Act 1968)
  • sell, supply or offer for sale or supply any P medicine or POMs (in line with Regulation 220 of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012)

 

However, Mr Soiza told C+D that the company does not “directly supply” P medicines or POMs.

When C+D accessed UK Med’s LinkedIn page on December 10, the company was still referring to itself as a GPhC-regulated online pharmacy.

Mr Soiza told C+D on December 20: “We absolutely refute the allegation that we are still trading under the falsity of being an online pharmacy.

“Since September 6, we have undertaken a thorough audit of all our channels to remove any historic references to our previous status as a pharmacy and will immediately correct any isolated mentions that may have been missed.”

The company has now rectified the wording on its LinkedIn page.

 

GPhC still looking into some concerns

 

A GPhC spokesperson told C+D that it had received “a number of concerns about UK Meds and is continuing to investigate these”.

“While this investigation is ongoing, we cannot share any further details,” they said.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was also looking into the company last year and told C+D on October 28 that it was “reviewing its activities”. However, it confirmed in December that it had found “no breach” of the Human Medicines Regulation by the company.

Mr Soiza said that UK Meds’ priority is patient safety.

In fact, we were the first health company to introduce robust ID security checks and anti-abuse profiling systems – long before they were made compulsory by the GPhC,” he claimed.

“We also spearheaded a proposed solution for improved alignment of the medical records which are held by private healthcare providers and those which are held within the NHS to better support patients and ensure safer oversight of online medicine supplies, a proposal which we presented in person to the GPhC at its head office in January 2020,” Mr Soiza added.

UK Meds came under scrutiny in 2018, when a BBC investigation highlighted that one former opiate addict was able to order 100 dihydrocodeine tablets for £49.95 plus delivery costs from the company, while another ordered 56 capsules of 300mg pregabalin – a drug the BBC claimed is becoming “increasingly abused” – for £59.95.

The GPhC told C+D at the time that it was “considering concerns” raised about UK Meds.

 

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