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Almost a third of online pharmacies failing to meet standards, warns GPhC

Almost a third of online pharmacies are not currently meeting the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) standards, the regulator has warned.

Some 84% of pharmacies are meeting the regulator’s standards, according to slides presented by GPhC director of insight, intelligence and inspection Claire Bryce-Smith at the 2023 Sigma conference today (March 6).

But the slides added that this falls to 69% for online pharmacies - meaning almost a third (31%) are failing to meet regulatory standards.

Read more: Scottish online pharmacy secures £10m cash injection to expand across UK

This comes as the regulator is seeing a “much greater use of technology-enabled models of service delivery”, they said.

And the situation has worsened since May - when Ms Bryce-Smith said that while 85% of all pharmacies inspected by the regulator were meeting its standards, this went down to 71% for online pharmacies, with some failing as many as nine of the GPhC’s standards.

Online pharmacy “failures”

Meanwhile, the slides reiterated that three in 10 (30%) of the GPhC’s fitness-to-practise (FtP) caseload regards professionals working within online settings.

Ms Bryce-Smith told delegates at the conference taking place this week that “a lot” of these professionals are independent prescribers, while some are superintendents.

Read more: Online pharmacies: Coroner flags ‘lack of integrated records’ after patient ‘overdose’


“What we have found, particularly in online, is that sometimes professionals have been working outside of their scope of practice,” she said.

In cases seen by the GPhC, people who previously worked in community pharmacy but moved into an online setting “seem to forget all the stuff that happens within community pharmacy systems”, she added.

Read more: Online pharmacies ‘disrupting the market’, wholesalers told

This includes things such as “the processes and the procedures around their professional judgement, particularly where there is prescribing involved”, she told delegates.

“Overprescribing” and prescribing outside the individual’s “scope of practice” were among “failures” that the GPhC saw in online pharmacy, Ms Bryce-Smith said, as well as a lack of “appropriate checks in place” or “alarm bells raised”.

Read more: DH rubberstamps plans giving GPhC power to set own practices

“When they move into a different setting, something they would have done in a community pharmacy setting doesn't seem to be imported into that different setting,” she added.

Ms Bryce-Smith revealed in May that the GPhC had seen a “significant number” of fitness-to-practise concerns involving online pharmacies, with 187 cases currently open linked to 83 online pharmacies.

And in August it was revealed that the regulator had taken action against five more pharmacists working for online providers.


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