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New safeguards for people seeking medicines online

Online pharmacies in Great Britain will have to follow our updated guidance to protect people getting medicines online 

We have strengthened our guidance for pharmacy owners to help make sure that people can only obtain medicines from online pharmacies that are safe and clinically appropriate for them.

See the updated guidance in Welsh

Online research by YouGov commissioned by the GPhC (2) found that 25% of people say they are likely to use online pharmacies in the future, but 50% of those unlikely to do so have concerns about the safety of online pharmacies.

After considering feedback from the sector and patients and the public to proposals published last year (3), the GPhC has introduced further safeguards for patients and the public in the following key areas:

  • Making sure medicines are clinically appropriate for patients – online pharmacies will have to make sure:
    • there are robust processes in place to carry out identity checks on people obtaining medicines
    • the pharmacy team can identify requests for medicines that are inappropriate, including by being able to identify multiple orders to the same address or orders using the same payment details
    • the pharmacy websites do not allow a patient to choose a prescription-only medicine and its quantity before there has been an appropriate consultation with a prescriber
  • Further safeguards for certain categories of prescription only medicines – further safeguards will have to be in place before supplying the following categories of medicines to make sure that they are clinically appropriate:
    • antimicrobials (antibiotics) 
    • medicines liable to abuse, overuse or misuse, or where there is a risk of addiction and ongoing monitoring is important. For example, opiates, sedatives, laxatives, pregabalin and gabapentin
    • medicines that require ongoing monitoring or management. For example, those used to treat diabetes, asthma, epilepsy and mental health conditions
    • non-surgical cosmetic medicinal products, such as Botox

These safeguards include making sure the prescriber proactively shares all relevant information about the prescription with their GP after seeking the patient’s consent.

  • Transparency and patient choice – pharmacy owners will have to supply more details about where the service and health professionals involved in prescribing and supplying the medicine are based and how they are regulated, so people have enough information to make an informed decision about using the service and can raise concerns about the service if they need to.
  • Regulatory oversight - pharmacy owners working with prescribers or prescribing services operating outside the UK must take steps to successfully manage the additional risks that this may create, including assuring themselves that the prescriber is working within national prescribing guidelines for the UK.

These new safeguards received strong support overall from more than 800 individuals and organisations responding to a discussion paper published last year.

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

“We support pharmacy services being provided in innovative ways, including online, as long as the services are safe and effective for people. But providing pharmacy services online carries particular risks which need to be successfully managed."

“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."

“I would strongly urge patients and the public wanting to obtain medicines online to only use online pharmacies registered with us, to protect their health. These pharmacies have to meet our standards and follow this guidance, so they provide safe and effective services, and we will be inspecting pharmacies to make sure this is the case."

“We are also continuing to work closely with other regulators involved in regulating online primary care services, governments and other stakeholders across Great Britain to improve the quality of care for patients online.”

Separately, we are currently consulting on new guidance for pharmacist prescribers, including when prescribing remotely (4).

How to keep safe when using an online pharmacy

  • Make sure the online pharmacy is registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council. The online pharmacy should say this prominently on its homepage or ‘About us’ page and give its registration number. You might also see this logo which should click through to the register:


 

  • Visit pharmacyregulation.org/registers/pharmacy to check the pharmacy is on the online register.

  • Expect to be asked questions about your health and identity before being able to buy a medicine and answer them honestly. This will help the health professionals prescribing or supplying the medicine to make sure it is safe and appropriate for you.

  • Avoid websites which offer to supply prescription-only medicines without a prescription; you could put your health at serious risk.

Specific

(1) The guidance for registered pharmacies providing pharmacy services at a distance including on the internet can be read here.

See the updated guidance in Welsh

(2)  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+).

(3) The consultation report can be found here.

(4) The consultation on pharmacist independent prescribing can be found here.