The online supply of medicines needs to be more tightly regulated, the General Pharmaceutical Council has said, citing medicines such as antibiotics, opiates and Botox as examples where more safeguards should be in place to keep patients safe.

Amid concerns that “some services appear to undermine the important safeguards that are in place to protect patients from accessing medicines that are not clinically appropriate for them,” a new discussion paper from the GPhC sets out its proposals for minimising the risks involved in online pharmacy services.

Safeguarding proposals

The proposals include pushing for specific safeguarding arrangements to be made for certain categories of prescription only medicines. For example, the GPhC says, antibiotics should be supplied only when testing shows they are clinically appropriate and when antimicrobial stewardship guidelines have been taken into account.

Other safeguards proposed by the regulator include only allowing opiates and sedatives to be prescribed and supplied when the patient‘s GP has confirmed that the prescription is appropriate.

The regulator’s other proposals include:

  • Ensuring transparency for patients by providing them with information regarding the online pharmacy, such as its physical address and whether the prescriber is a doctor or non-medical independent prescriber
  • Making sure medicines are clinically appropriate for patients – e.g. by performing identity checks
  • Requiring pharmacy owners to ensure that any prescribing services they work with adhere to national prescribing guidelines for the UK.

The GPhC is seeking views on its proposals until 21 August, and says it is particularly keen to hear the experience of patients and the public who may have used online pharmacy services.

Medicines not "ordinary items of commerce"

GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said: “We are concerned that patients may be able to access medicines that are not clinically appropriate for them from online primary care services. Medicines are not ordinary items of commerce, and must not be treated as such.

“Regulating healthcare services on the internet is complex, with different organisations and agencies responsible for different parts of the service. We want to play our part in strengthening the safeguards in place for patients and the public through the guidance we set for pharmacy owners and through our inspections of online pharmacy services.”

The GPhC is working closely with other regulators on this issue, Mr Rudkin added.

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