The pharmacy regulator has issued new rules for online pharmacies in response to concerns that patients were being put at risk.
Updated standards set by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) include a crackdown on ease of availability of antibiotics and drugs with the potential for misuse including opioids, pregablin and gabapentin.
The improved safeguards also include more robust identify checks, being able to flag up inappropriate requests and proactively sharing information about online prescriptions with the patient’s GP.
Websites will no longer be able to allow patients to choose a prescription-only medicine and its quantity before ‘an appropriate consultation with a prescriber’.
And online prescribers/pharmacies will have to follow further safeguards for medicines that require ongoing monitoring or management.
The new safety rules come after a lengthy consultation by the GPC who said it had become ‘increasingly concerned’ about the way some services were undermining existing safeguards around access to medicines.
A Pulse investigation last year highlighted fears among GPs that patients were too easily able to access medicines inappropriately online.
In 2018, the Care Quality Commission carried out a series of inspections and found that online prescribing companies were prescribing high volumes of antibiotics, inhalers and opioids without talking to patients’ registered GPs.
Overall 15 of the 35 providers it looked at ‘were found not to be providing “safe” care’ – even after re-inspection.
Duncan Rudkin, GPhC chief executive, said they supported pharmacy services being provided in innovative ways, including online, as long as safe and effective.
‘People can be put at serious risk if they are able to obtain medicines that are not appropriate for them.
‘We are now putting in place this updated guidance with further safeguards to protect people.’
He urged patients to only use GPhC registered online pharmacies which would have to follow the updated standards and which they would be inspecting to ensure they did.