CQC finds safety concerns with online primary care

Credit: This story was first seen on On Medica

CQC inspections of some companies that provide online primary care have found significant concerns about patient safety, On Medica reports.

GP leaders called for action against websites that don’t follow strict GMC guidelines on remote prescribing, as Healthwatch England said the CQC’s findings showed that “money has been trumping ethics in the world of online prescribing”.

The CQC acknowledged that well-run services can offer convenient and effective treatment, but said its inspectors had found services that were risking harm to patients by selling medicines without doing enough to check the drugs were appropriate.

It has published reports from two urgent inspections, both of which have resulted in the providers concerned stopping providing services in England.

It found, among other concerns:

  • No (or minimal) identity checks for patients.
  • No way of identifying whether or not patients lacked capacity to consent or understand their prescribed treatment or medical advice, or if there were any safeguarding concerns (and, if they were identified, minimal structures in place to handle them).
  • No systems or processes to contact the patient’s usual GP, including when medication was prescribed that required monitoring or follow-up.
  • Prescribing practice that did not take account of the patient’s clinical condition or consider differential diagnoses.
  • Inadequate medical history-taking to inform appropriate prescribing.
  • No assurances that clinicians had relevant skills or qualifications for the role they were performing.

Healthwatch England tweeted that although greater online access to NHS services is the future, and is what people say they want, safety is vital.

The CQC said it has now conducted an internal review of all 43 registered online services, and brought forward its inspection programme – prioritising those services it considers as potentially presenting a significant risk to patients.

The RCGP welcomed the CQC’s promise to take seriously its ‘incredibly concerning’ reports that patients could buy prescription medicines online with minimal security checks.

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It urged patients to consider the implications of buying drugs online from unverified websites, and pointed out that GPs and other prescribers in the community take account of a patient’s unique health needs, and other medicines they might already be taking, when making prescribing decisions.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “If patients are able to buy prescription drugs online, without appropriate health checks in place, and with decisions about whether to supply them being made by someone who doesn’t have access to their relevant medical history, it is a very real threat to their safety.”

She called for action against online providers that jeopardise patient safety. She said: “There are strict GMC guidelines on remote prescribing that must be followed – and if they are not, then action must be taken against the websites in question.”