Julie Cooper, MP for Burnley and Padiham, told C+D that the remuneration of online pharmacies “has got to be considered”, because they “cherry-pick” which medicines they offer to patients and only “do the easy prescriptions”.
“It’s not a level playing field”, because an online pharmacy has “no overheads” compared with a community pharmacy, Ms Cooper told C+D in an exclusive interview at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool last week (September 24).
The online pharmacy sector “needs to be fully regulated, and I’m not convinced it is”, added Ms Cooper, who said she had spoken to representatives from an online pharmacy company that she is “not satisfied” offers “a safe service”.
“We’ve got Amazon-like couriers delivering medication, cutting out the human interaction between patient and professional,” said Ms Cooper, who used to own and run a community pharmacy with her pharmacist husband.
Online pharmacies and apps are “not a quick fix [for] all of the problems of the NHS”, she added. “There's a lot of unsatisfactory elements to this.”
In June, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) proposed that online pharmacies should stop supplying opiates and asthma inhalers unless safeguards are put in place, citing situations where “patients have been put at risk because of the inappropriate sale and supply of medicines on the internet”.
Alongside a proposed update to its guidance for distance-selling pharmacies, the GPhC called on online pharmacy owners to “make appropriate checks”, such as the identity of the patient, and to “identify possible risks to patients”, such as spotting “multiple [medicine] orders to the same address”.
Labour “committed to funding pharmacy”
Ms Cooper also told C+D that the Labour party is “committed to properly funding community pharmacy”, and to helping it deliver “an extended range of services”.
The 2017 Labour manifesto – which pledged to stop pharmacies closing and ensure access to services – is “still relevant”, she said. “We've been working on putting the flesh on the bones of that.”
The party would like to see community pharmacy play a “bigger part in the primary care team and wellbeing agenda”, she said.
“People need to be supported to live well. That's the only way we're going to sustain our health service, instead of just focusing on illness with a patchwork approach.”
The Conservative government wants to “pay less and get more”, but this is resulting in “less provision” of healthcare, with “the most deprived communities paying the biggest price”, Ms Cooper claimed.
Community pharmacy services require “proper investment” to continue – “you get what you pay for”, she said.