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MP calls for greater scrutiny of payments to online pharmacies

Julie Cooper: Labour party wants to see community pharmacy play a "bigger part" in primary care
Julie Cooper: Labour party wants to see community pharmacy play a "bigger part" in primary care

Online pharmacies must have their payment system scrutinised and “need to be fully regulated”, a Labour MP has said.

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.

Do you think online pharmacies need to be better regulated?

S S, Superintendent Pharmacist

What a joke!

Cherry picking easy prescriptions? The contract states distance selling pharmacies have to dispense all NHS scripts... the number of times “community pharmacies” refuse the harder MDS trays and above tariff lines is huge!!

Less overheads?! We still have pharmacists and dispensers to pay and not to mention the delivery costs for every prescription dispensed!! Even the big boys are reducing delivery services due to the cost burden! Can internet pharmacy do the same? NO coz it’s in our contract ! 

Why not Give internet pharmacies a choice to switch to a Standard contract if they want to so they can have the opportunity to feel the extra burden of these so called “overheads”

Ebers Papyrus, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Business rates were brought in before the internet was conceived they are out dated; it’s clear that governments will level the playing field and introduce taxes to digital businesses in the short term. The plan will be to reverse the decline in high streets which define local communities.

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

Finally someone talking sense. Shame she has no powers to do anything about it! 

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Looks like people are getting "online pharmacies" and "online doctors" mixed up again.

RS Pharmacist, Primary care pharmacist

I agree that online Pharmacies offer very little to patients other than their medication, however I don’t trust politicians and was wondering why Ms Cooper is commenting on pharmacy.

This is because she was/is married to a pharmacist and has owned their own pharmacy. I wonder if she still does have some involvement with pharmacy, financial or otherwise.

Nalin Shah, Community pharmacist

for your highstreet or bricks mortar model;

business rates, goodwills paid, cycle lanes.,parking restrictions..slow death by a thousand cuts 

Julie Cooper is spot on. The BMA stance on online GP services is one that PSNC should mirror.

Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

As much as I suspect they'd love to criticise Pharmacy2U, as negotiating body for the entire sector, PSNC must represent all contractors, regardless of how much data they sell, how misleading their advertising is, however dodgy their "research papers" are or how long they shut over Christmas when they get a little busy...

Charles Whitfield Bott, Pharmacist Director

I would be happy for Julie Cooper to be Pharmacy Minister, as I would have been for Jamie Reed. My problem is I am not happy for Jeremy, or the Labour Party as a whole to run the economy. Good ideas are only that if you have no money to spend.

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