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GPhC: Almost 2,000 FtP concerns raised about online pharmacies since 2019

The pharmacy regulator has said that online pharmacies pose “significant risks” as an investigation has revealed the lack of checks in place to safeguard online sales of prescription drugs.  

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) last week (January 5) announced that it has conducted 680 inspections of online pharmacies since April 2019.

It said that over this period, it has seen a staggering “1,985 concerns related to online pharmacies raised to Fitness to Practise” (FtP).

The GPhC released the data in response to an investigation published by the BBC last week (January 5) that found 20 online pharmacies selling prescription-only medicine (POM) drugs “without checks”.

Of those 20 online pharmacies, the broadcaster discovered that nine sold anti-anxiety drugs, nine sold painkillers and fourteen sold sleeping medication – and it said it was able to obtain a “potentially fatal dose of the anti-anxiety medicine”.

The BBC said that it was able to purchase “over 1,600 various prescription-only pills by entering false information without challenge”, some on the basis of online questionnaires.


GPhC taking “action” on inappropriate POM sales


Responding to the findings, GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin stressed that pharmacy owners should identify “requests for medicines that are inappropriate, too large or too frequent” to sell at distance.

He added that “medicines liable to misuse and/or when ongoing monitoring is important” such as opioids and sedatives are “not suitable” unless “further safeguards” are put in place.

“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,” he said.

Mr Rudkin said that it “in particular”, the regulator was “taking enforcement action where [it saw] high-risk medicines being supplied where the prescriber is relying primarily on an online questionnaire”.

He added that it has taken such action against owners when it has “identified cases where some online pharmacies have supplied these high-risk medicines to patients without appropriate steps”.

And he said that the GPhC has asked the BBC to provide further information so it can “urgently look into these concerns and take action to protect patients and the public”.


Dozens of online pharmacies reprimanded


The GPhC said that of the 680 online pharmacy inspections it carried out since April 2019, “only 72% met all standards compared to the overall historic benchmark of 84%”.

It added that it took “enforcement action… to address patient safety risks” against “54 distinct online pharmacies”, including “57 conditions notices and 12 improvement notices”.

“Typically, enforcement action has been taken against online pharmacies supplying higher risk medicines for private prescriptions based on questionnaire-type consultations with little or no evidence” of GP involvement, the GPhC said.

It added that there are currently 263 open FtP cases against online pharmacies - “which represents over 18% of [its] open caseload”.

The regulator revealed that there are currently 10 registrants who worked at five different online pharmacies “who are now subject to an interim order”.

Read more: Online pharmacy chided by MHRA for advertising POM Ozempic for weight loss

In June, C+D revealed that the GPhC had taken action six times in FtP cases related to online pharmacies since the previous August.

In May 2022, the GPhC said that it had seen a “significant number” of FtP concerns involving online pharmacies, with 187 cases open linked to 83 online pharmacies.

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