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GPhC cracks down on 3 online pharmacies supplying high-risk medicines

Medicines liable to abuse, overuse or misuse were being sold without appropriate safeguards
Medicines liable to abuse, overuse or misuse were being sold without appropriate safeguards

The GPhC has restricted three online pharmacies’ services after identifying “serious patient safety concerns” with their supply of high-risk medicines.

During recent inspections, three online pharmacies were found to have breached the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) guidance on providing pharmacy services at a distance, the regulator told C+D this afternoon (September 18).

This included supplying medicines liable to abuse, overuse or misuse, or with a risk of addiction – for example, opiates, sedatives, laxatives, pregabalin and gabapentin – without appropriate safeguards being in place.

The three online pharmacies must now meet certain conditions before resuming their full dispensing services, including proving appropriate patient identity checks are in place and providing evidence that pharmacy staff are appropriately qualified and understand their responsibilities, the GPhC said.

Controlled drugs supply and veterinary scripts overseas

White Pharmacy, registered in Alton, Hampshire, and Pronto Healthcare Ltd in Bolton, Greater Manchester, have both been told they must not sell or dispense any controlled drugs until they have implemented the GPhC’s improvement actions.

Medix Pharmacy in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, was found to be supplying prescription-only medicines for animals overseas, prescribed by a non-Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons practitioner. This dispensing service has been suspended until the pharmacy has demonstrated that “adequate systems are in place” to manage the risks to patient safety, the GPhC said.

A summary of the enforcement action imposed on each of the online pharmacies is available to view on the GPhC’s new inspections website.

Pharmacists under investigation

“A number” of superintendent pharmacists, pharmacist independent prescribers and responsible pharmacists also face fitness-to-practise investigations for their role in the inappropriate supply of medicines online, the GPhC added.

“As these cases are ongoing, we cannot provide further information at this stage,” it said.

“Prioritising inspections”

As part of its crackdown, GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin has asked all owners of online pharmacies to prove they are meeting the regulator’s guidance.

This information will be used to “proactively prioritise our inspection programme”, Mr Rudkin said in the letter.

The actions of the online pharmacies and individuals involved “have put the safety of patients at risk”, he stressed.

“I have made clear that pharmacy owners need to make sure that they have the right safeguards in place to make sure all medicines they supply are clinically appropriate for their patients.”

For example, “when prescribing and supplying high-risk medicines such as opioids, it is not acceptable to rely solely on information provided by the patient via an online questionnaire”, Mr Rudkin said.

The GPhC is working with other organisations involved in regulating online primary care services and governments across Great Britain to improve the quality of care for patients online, he added.

What do you make of the GPhC's action?

Dodo pharmacist, Community pharmacist

If only they would take action against online pharmacies who mislead patients into signing up by sending letters pretending to be from the NHS and the patient’s doctor and then sell their details to Australian scammers ...........

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