Online pharmacies are putting patients at risk by doling out drugs after assessments lasting just 17 seconds, watchdogs have warned.
The Care Quality Commmission (CQC) has suspended one website, and told three more to take steps to protect patients.
The regulator said powerful and addictive drugs, including opiates were behind handed out without proper checks on patients’ identities or medical history.
One firm – Doctor Matt Ltd – has had its registration suspended until June after it was found to be issuing prescriptions after taking as little as 17 seconds to review patient questionnaires.
Frosts Pharmacy Ltd was found to be prescribing large quantities of inhalers for asthma without checking if the patient’s condition was out of control or if a diagnosis had been confirmed. White Pharmacy Ltd was prescribing a high volume of opioid-based medicines with no system in place to confirm patients’ medical or prescribing histories.
And i-GP Ltd was issued requirement notices instructing it to do more to verify the identity of its patients.
Last month, CQC warned the public to act with caution when considering using websites selling prescription medicines, after issusing damning findings about two more firms, HR Healthcare Ltd and MD Direct.
Professor Steve Field, CQC chief inspector of General Practice said: “It is understandable that people want convenient access to advice and medicines, but it is important that providers do not compromise on patient safety.
“We expect the same standards of quality and safety to be met as we would see in more traditional GP settings – this is exactly what people deserve.
“Online companies, and the people working for them, have a duty to protect the people seeking their support. They must follow relevant guidance and best practice to make sure that they know who they are communicating with, how medicines fit in with their medical history, and that their GP is made aware of any prescribing decisions.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We cannot tolerate a laissez faire attitude towards dispensing of prescription medication; they are not sweets.”
She said she was concerned about minimal security checks on some websites.
“We do understand why patients might think getting their medication online is convenient, but they also need to be confident that these services are safe,” she said.