In March 2017, contractors started receiving letters from the healthcare regulator telling them they were suspected of a "criminal offence" for failing to have registered with the CQC as a service provider.
The letters – a copy of which C+D has seen – warned that the CQC could “inspect relevant premises where [it] suspects” an offence has been committed.
Noel Wardle, partner at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, said “several” of his pharmacy clients had received these letters.
If a pharmacy is using UK-registered doctors to prescribe medicines as part of its online prescribing service, it has to be registered with the CQC. If not, “you will get one of those letters”, Mr Wardle told delegates of Charles Russell Speechlys’ annual conference in London yesterday (March 15).
However, receiving a letter from the CQC “might not be as scary as it looks, depending on how you set up your business”, he added.
“Not always necessary to register”
There are circumstances “where perhaps it is not necessary to register” with the CQC, Mr Wardle suggested.
“If your website and your [online] prescribing is done by pharmacist prescribers,” the pharmacy would not fall under the CQC programme of inspections as “pharmacists are carved out of the CQC's [remit]”, he explained.
The CQC confirmed to C+D that its online regulation programme only applies for digital pharmacies that employ a GP.
“CQC’s role in online prescribing concerns the GP consultation, assessment and prescribing element that some websites offer – carried out by a General Medical Council-registered GP,” it said.
“We expect this to be of the same standard of care and safety as you would expect in a more traditional setting like a GP surgery.”
Mr Wardle also suggested that if the prescribing service is provided by “an EU doctor who isn’t registered in the UK, arguably the CQC has no jurisdiction over your activities”.
Online pharmacies will also be exempt from the CQC’s inspections if the prescribing is done by a “third party company, which is registered with the CQC”, he added.
The CQC stressed the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) “remains the independent regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises”.
When the CQC’s inspection programme launched, GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said pharmacies linked to the online services being inspected by the CQC will be subject to “further inspections” from the pharmacy regulator “where necessary”.
Last June, National Pharmacy Association chief pharmacist Leyla Hannbeck urged concerned contractors who had received a CQC letter, to contact the regulator for clarification, “especially if you provide online prescribing services as part of your pharmacy business”.