Gisela’s blog: Online pharmacy and prescribing services – taking action to keep patients safe

4 October 2022

Our Chair, Gisela Abbam, sets out the patient safety issues we’ve identified with online pharmacy services and how we are responding to protect people using these services

Patients and the public are increasingly using online pharmacy services to get medicines and treatment. There can be significant benefits for people in using online services, but the right safeguards need to be in place to protect patients, as medicines are not ordinary items of commerce.

This a fast-developing area of pharmacy practice. As the pharmacy regulator, we need to respond quickly and effectively to emerging issues, to keep patients safe.

In this special edition of Regulate, we take a closer look at some of the issues around online pharmacies, and what actions we are taking to help keep people safe.

Unfortunately, we are continuing to identify patient safety concerns. More than 30% of open Fitness to Practise cases at the GPhC are related to online pharmacies and we have taken enforcement action against 55 online pharmacies since 2019.

Working with pharmacy professionals and owners

We want to work with pharmacies, pharmacy owners and pharmacists to ensure the right environment is created and maintained to deliver safe and effective online pharmacy services.

But we are seeing too many examples of pharmacies which have weak clinical governance and leadership, and are not providing a safe and effective service. Where necessary, we are taking robust action in response to concerns over some online prescribing services in Great Britain and are working closely with other relevant regulators.

In the first article in this special edition, we set out the key themes we are seeing in our fitness to practise cases, the patient safety issues we’ve identified, actions we’ve taken, and what pharmacy professionals and owners need to do if they are providing online pharmacy or prescribing services.

These actions includes making sure the standards for pharmacy professionals are met at all times, and that the organisation or service that you are working for is appropriately regulated in the UK, or is meeting the relevant UK regulatory standards for that service.

Sharing good practice to help drive improvement

We also want to proactively share examples of good practice we have seen in online pharmacies, and make clear to everyone working in this area what is expected of them, to help drive improvements in patient care. We know some online pharmacies and prescribing services are providing a good service that benefits patients. In this article we share examples of good clinical governance in an online pharmacy setting, which have been identified through our inspection work.

For patients and the public, we’re also sharing our guide with top tips to help people make sure any medicine or treatment they get is suitable and safe.

 A safer future for online pharmacy

It is vital we ensure online pharmacy services are safe for the public and patients to use now and in the future. We all need to work together and respond quickly to make that happen.