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New guide to help people keep safe when getting medicines or treatment online

UK health organisations have today launched a new guide to help people make sure that medicines or treatment they get online are safe and right for them.

The guide includes six top tips for anyone going online for medicines or treatment:

  1. Check if the online healthcare service and healthcare professionals working there are registered with UK regulators.
  2. Ask questions about how the service works
  3. Answer questions honestly about your health and medical history
  4. Find out your options for treatment and how to take any medicines you’re prescribed
  5. Expect to be asked for consent for information to be shared with other healthcare professionals involved in your care
  6. Check what after-care you will receive

The guide also gives details about what questions to ask when using online health services. It includes links to supporting information, such as how to check if an online service or health professional is regulated and what standards you can expect from health professionals providing remote consultations or prescribing online.

The advice within the guide was developed by leading health organisations using insights from concerns raised with them by patients and the public about online healthcare services, as well as direct feedback from patients and the public.

Previous research commissioned by the General Pharmaceutical Council indicates over 1 in 10 people are already using online pharmacy services and at least 1 in 4 are considering using online health services in the future. 

Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, said:

“Online healthcare services and apps can bring real benefits for people, but there can also be significant risks, particularly if you use online services which are not regulated in the UK. 

“The advice in this new guide will help people to keep themselves and their families safe when going online for medicines or treatment. 

“We hope this advice will be particularly helpful during the coronavirus outbreak, when more people may be considering going online for medicines and when some unregulated websites may be offering fake medicines or false information”.

The online guide is supported by ten leading health organisations which regulate or represent medicines, health professionals or health services across the UK; Care Quality Commission, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, General Medical Council, General Pharmaceutical Council, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, Nursing and Midwifery Council, Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland, Pharmacy Forum NI and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. 

Notes to editors: 

(1) Online research by YouGov in 2018 (1) found that 12% of people had obtained medicine from an online pharmacy and 25% of people said they are likely to use online pharmacies in the future. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2040 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th - 9th August 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).