Online pharmacy owners have been warned to proactively follow General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) guidance or face fitness to practise investigations.
We’ve previously written about the GPhC’s principles for good practice to protect patients online. The GPhC has been clear on the potential dangers to patient safety by online pharmacies that is a fast-growing sector and the need for online pharmacy owners to be proactive in its safeguards.
The GPhC has been following up on its guidance with enforcement action reporting regulatory action against online pharmacy owners who prescribe “high-risk habit-forming medicines” online that it has identified as presenting “significant patient safety concerns”.
The GPhC said patient safety concerns were identified during recent pharmacy inspections which looked at whether online pharmacy owners were meeting the standards for registered pharmacies and following updated guidance published in April this year.
Back in September it said: “In light of the very real patient safety risks identified, we have now written to online pharmacy owners to emphasise that they should not operate a pharmacy model where prescribing and supply decisions for habit-forming medicines are primarily informed by online questionnaires with no access to a patient’s medical history or consent to contact a patient’s GP, and without appropriate risk management and safeguards in place.”
The GPhC’s enforcement action is however not limited to just online pharmacy owners. It has also reported action against “pharmacists working for online healthcare services”.
What enforcement can be taken?
The GPhC reported a range of fitness to practise actions taken by it in relation to failure to comply with GPhC rules on online prescribing, particularly in relation to high-risk habit-forming medicines:
- conditions on registration
- improvement notice and conditions on registration
- Fitness to Practise investigations
What you can do to protect yourself
In September the GPhC chief executive wrote to owners of online pharmacies requesting information and evidence on the actions they have taken to comply with the new guidance and make sure patients access pharmacy services online safely.
The GPhC has pointed to a number of “key points” to note that will help online pharmacy owners and pharmacists working for online healthcare services comply with its rules and guidance:
- Online pharmacy owners have to provide information to the GPhC on the actions they have taken to follow the updated guidance and make sure patients access pharmacy services online safely;
- Online pharmacy owners have to make sure they are not operating or working within a pharmacy model where prescribing and supply decisions for habit-forming medicines are primarily informed by online questionnaires with no access to a patient’s medical history or consent to contact a patient’s GP and without appropriate risk management and safeguards in place;
- Prescribers working for online pharmacies who are prescribing remotely need to take appropriate steps to make sure a medicine is clinically appropriate for a patient, as outlined in regulatory standards and guidance; and
- Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working for online pharmacies also have an important responsibility to use their professional judgement to make clinical and professional decisions. This would include considering whether appropriate safeguards are in place at each stage within the system in which they are working to identify if a medicine is clinically appropriate for a patient, even if they are not responsible for the decisions made at earlier stages. They should challenge poor practice and behaviours that could potentially put patients at risk.
Kings View Chambers
Specialist healthcare and medical regulation defence barristers dealing with all fitness to practise matters before:
- General Medical Council
- General Pharmaceutical Council
- General Dental Council
- Nursing & Midwifery Council
- Health and Care Professions Council
- Social Work England
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