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Lawyer: CQC pharmacy inspection letter 'not as scary as it looks'

CQC: We will inspect relevant premises where we suspect an offence has been committed
CQC: We will inspect relevant premises where we suspect an offence has been committed

Receiving a letter from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) threatening to inspect your pharmacy “might not be as scary as it looks”, a lawyer has said.

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.

The letters were sent as the CQC launched a "programme of inspections", covering 35 digital healthcare providers – including Boots, Lloydspharmacy, Frosts Pharmacy and Pharmacy2U.

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”.

Does your pharmacy offer an online prescribing service?

paul lisbon, GP

The CQC is trying to make a case to become a super regulator, the online pharmacies that got slammed last year, many of them confirm the CQC came with a CQC inspector who was a pharmacist who was acting like he is from the GPHC, asking to review the pharmacy SOP's. The pharmacy in question complained to the GPHC who i believe complained to the CQC. The CQC going to the media and making a story out of this is also not the way a regulator should behave, however they need to do this to convince the DoH we can regulate pharmacies.

amardeep bindra, Community pharmacist

I wish the CQC would inspect some busy pharmacies from the big chains. If they ultimately decide that everything is hunky-dory, then you can figure out who is getting a backhander.

At least the CQC are actually doing something. What is the GPhC doing?


Hopefully if the CQC come in, then they can see that the only thing the GPhC does effectively is collect fees from it's registrants.

I don't mind a bit of suffering because I am only here to take care of my patients. But when senior people are getting filthy rich from my work, it doesn't seem so altruistic anymore. I hate it, and I hate the profiteering attitude which everybody seems to ignore.

I want to help sick people, I do not want to contribute to outrageous pension pots in off-shore banks owned by people who don't know anything about pharmacy.

The UK community pharmacy has the blood sucked out of it by some of the greediest people on the planet. They are not pharmacists so the GPhC does nothing, as usual, and all pharmacy staff and patients are now suffering because of that insatiable greed for more and more cash. Disgusting, unprofessional and scandalous.

Greed, money and corruption. The patients seem to be an afterthought.

*This comment has been edited to comply with C+D's community principles*

Ravinder Bains, Pharmacist Director

Well considering the recent crackdown and spate of online pharmacies that have been shut down due to unethical and dangerous practices. it maybe scary because its the unknown but if you have done nothing wrong and have safe and ethical systems and procedures involved theres nothing to fear

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