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Pharmacist-run private clinics to be regulated in Scotland from June 19

The Scottish government has introduced “particularly urgent” legislative amendments to regulate private clinics run by pharmacists or pharmacy technicians.

Scottish legislation coming into force this week (June 19) will close a regulatory gap that allowed registered pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to practise in unregulated private clinics, according to law passed by the Scottish government last week (June 13).

The legislative amendment will empower Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) to “regulate independent clinics where services are provided by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians“, according to its policy note.

Read more: Wegovy: Online weight loss drugs need 'urgent regulation', doctor leaders warn

Previously, registered pharmacists and pharmacy technicians could provide services in unregulated clinics in Scotland, including “wholly online providers”, as long as the sites were not registered pharmacies or provided services under an NHS contract, it said.

With the introduction of the legislation, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will need to register with HIS if they are to operate an “independent clinic”, it added.


“Particularly urgent”


The legislation also adds “particularly urgent” amendments to the definition of an “independent medical agency” to include services provided online by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians among other healthcare professions, the policy note said.

The lack of regulation for online healthcare services “is considered to pose a public health risk”, it added.

Read more: ‘It terrifies me’: Girl landed in A&E after buying Wegovy from Boots

The order will give HIS the power to issue the “meaningful sanction” of cancelling the registration of independent clinics that fail to pay continuation fees - a “deterrent” to be used as “a last resort”, the note said.

But a transitional “grace period” will run from the legislation’s start date to June 18 next year, during which time it will “not be an offence” for pharmacists or pharmacy technicians to provide private clinics without being registered, it added.

Meanwhile, another legislative amendment also coming into effect on June 19 will give more HIS inspectors the power to examine medical records, with the powers currently restricted to medical practitioners, registered nurses, pharmacists and registered dentists.

Read more: ‘Clear message’: GPhC issues warnings for prescribing via online questionnaires

A spokesperson for the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) declined to comment because of the pending elections.

C+D also reached out to the Scottish government and HIS for comment.


“Regulatory gaps”


In January, GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin warned the parliamentary pharmacy inquiry that “regulatory gaps” meant that businesses were being set up that use pharmacists to provide clinical care but not to supply medication.

Rudkin told MPs that these services are “not liable to be regulated” by the GPhC but also fall outside the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) jurisdiction “because it's a pharmacist service”. 

Read more: Wegovy online prescription warning - pharmacists threatened by GPhC action

The Scottish regulatory changes come as online pharmacy practice has come under renewed scrutiny.

Last week, president-elect of the Society for Acute Medicine (SAM) Dr Vicky Price called for “urgent regulation and control of access for weight loss drugs online to avoid more patients becoming unwell”.

It followed a C+D exclusive revealing that a “young girl” had to be treated in A&E after presenting with life threatening symptoms after taking weight loss drug Wegovy obtained through Boots Online Doctor.

Read more: CQC should replace GPhC as pharmacy premises regulator, MPs told

Last month, the GPhC issued warnings to three pharmacists working for online pharmacies who had breached numerous regulatory standards by improperly prescribing or dispensing prescription-only medication (POMS) or controlled drugs (CDs) using online questionnaires.

Also in May, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) issued an alert to its members over prescribing Wegovy, warning them that they face possible regulatory action if they prescribe GLP-1RA weight loss drugs online using newly released guidance.

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