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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.’