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Independents' Day

GMC investigating 30 doctors over online prescribing

Exclusive The GMC is currently investigating 30 doctors, including 19 GPs, in cases connecting to online prescribing, Pulse has learned.

Pulse has also learned that there are several deaths connected to online prescribing, with coroners writing to health authorities in at least two cases.

The CQC last week said that 43% of online prescribers were unsafe, and this week Pulse revealed that at least 11 of the 35 online prescribing companies inspected by the CQC were criticised for failing to inform GPs when they have treated their patients.

The major Pulse investigation reveals that a range of regulators have expressed concern over the increase in online prescribing.

It is not clear on what basis the 30 doctors are being investigated, but a GMC spokesperson said: ‘Digital health services are expanding rapidly and, while they may present a convenient option for some patients, like any new technology, there are shortfalls that must be addressed.’

They added that they are working alongside the ‘MHRA, GPhC and CQC to map the regulatory landscape and address these issues’.

The MHRA told Pulse it has major concerns about the number of deaths in the UK as a result of online prescribing.

Pulse has learned that a patient, Richard Breatnach, died in Brighton in 2016 after being prescribed more than 120 dihydrocodeine tablets for a migraine. He was obtained these tablets from a prescribing doctor based in Bulgaria by filling in an online form, on which he lied about his medical history, while his GP was not informed.

The coroner concluded that online prescribing ‘completely undermines the diligent and careful GP’s efforts to control this man’s medication overuse’.

Linda Scammell, senior policy advisor at MRHA, said of Mr Breatnach’s death: ‘This isn’t the only one but they are not put in the public domain until the coroner has received the answer from the relevant organisation. There are two cases in the public domain but we have seen more.

The BMA’s GP Committee prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green said: ‘In comparison to the highly regulated world of general practice, these providers seem to work in a “wild west” beyond the reach of many regulators.

‘Of particular concern are prescriptions for drugs with potential for dependence, such as opioids, and for antibiotics, whose overuse threatens us all.’

Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘It’s incredibly concerning to hear reports of patients buying prescription drugs online, often from unverified websites, with minimal security checks in place and with decisions being made by prescribers who are unfamiliar with the person they are prescribing for.’

She added: ‘New services will inevitably experience some teething problems, but when our patients’ health is at risk, urgent, swift action must be taken to comprehensively address these before the service is rolled out further.’

Readers' comments (18)

  • No surprises here at all.

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  • Babylon beware!

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  • Doctors will soon be easily bypassed completely. If I was on Allopurinol for example I would be immensely frustrated to have to get permission from a doctor to get my repeats. I would want control over it myself and that is consumer power. Professional privilege will be swept away. Don't be lulled by thinking you have specialist knowledge- consumers will choose when to access it not be told.

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  • Be good make sure you charge well for a Ganfyd letter like a solicitor.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    I think policentheives is a troll and probably not a doctor at all. Fine- let consumers have what they want; this is what the article is about. You end up with deaths. Let's have a lot more so people can see the very real dangers of playing doctor. I wouldn't install my own gas oven, nor service a plane I was due to fly in.

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  • agree ! policentheieve is a troll

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  • Council of Despair

    i feel sorry for my colleagues being investigated.

    i'm sure many of us were offered the chance to do online consultations - i took the training for pushdrs but pulled out


    1. the quality of the video feed was poor and i felt unconfortable making decisions when it was hard to pick up non-verbal clues let alone perform an examination.
    2. although they had a list of meds not to prescribe - in general i was uncomfortable prescribing for patients meds for whom no info was available
    3. there was a rating system of drs by the patient and you had to get a certain score to be kept on - hence there was pressure to keep the patient happy.

    i pulled out and am glad i did - unfortunately colleagues are finding out the hard way that it isn't worth the risk.

    so yet again entities that make money escape scrutiny but it is the clinician who is the fall guy.

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  • AlanAlmond

    In my area the local Locum online system has just been flooded with ads for PushDr.
    Call me cold but personally I think GPs who are stupid enough to work online deserve all they get. If you’re regarded as capable of making decisions that have the potential to make the difference between someone’s life and death, your capable of assessing wether it’s really appropriate to be issuing prescription only drugs to a self selected group of atypical individuals by video link, whom you know very little about, can’t examine, and are being paid money to receive a positive rating from. To those out there who think this scenario is somehow fine because it’s ‘inovative’ make sure your indemnity subscription is up to date, your home address details are kept current from here to retirement, and then sit back and wait uncomfortably for the pat pat of unsettling letters from obscure legal companies than will drop through your front door on a random basis as the years ahead of you roll by. The story of Dr Faust doesn’t end happy. I don’t think the current incarnation of online GP service provision will end happy either. Do you want to be part of this story? I don’t.

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  • AlanAlmond

    I’m sure I’ve read interesting posts from policenthieves before. I don’t think its trolling, I suspect they’re just on allopurinol and frustrated. I know I get frustrated when I have to book to see my GP to get a prescription. You can’t get to see them. Because the service is woefully underfunded. It needs better funding, or perhaps we need access to a private GPs. But that doesn’t make the PushDr model OK. PushDr is the wrong solution to a genuine problem.

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  • The NHS is often frustratingly obstructive with repeat Meds. Many Practices seem to go out of their way to make systems even more unhelpful than necessary. Only one or two months at a time FFS - why?

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