The primary issue is with websites based outside of the U.K. which can be accessed by British citizens and where prescription only medications can be provided. This arises from a recent investigation by the BBC’s Panorama television program. While the recent issue applies to the U.K., the ramifications are global.
As greater numbers of people use the Internet to understand their personal health issues, a sizeable number also go online to buy prescription medication. The concern is that many online pharmacies are unregistered, meaning that buying from them is potentially unsafe. This either relates to the medicine not being appropriately prescribed or even because the medicine is falsified (either lacking the active ingredient or containing a harmful substance).
Stemming from the BBC investigation, the U.K. body responsible for the safe provision of medicines, the Care Quality Commission, has stated that many of these websites could be “dangerous”. The regulator only has the authority to inspect websites employing doctors contracted by companies in England. The Commission’s brief is to ensure sure that hospitals, care homes, dental and general practices and other care services in England provide people with safe, effective and high-quality care.
Similar concerns have also been expressed by other U.K. regulatory bodies, like the General Medical Council, the General Pharmaceutical Council, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
The Care Quality Commission has been running an awareness campaign for over one year. Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector of General Practice at the Care Quality Commission, has said: “We know that these websites can present convenient ways for people to access advice, treatment and medication.”
He adds: “Some services may be putting patients at risk. We are particularly concerned that risks to patients may not always be appropriately assessed or managed when they buy medicines online.”
Professor Field additionally told the BBC: “It makes me very angry that patients are put at risk and as a regulator it makes me even more certain that we need to try and get the legislation changed so that people can’t just bypass our regulatory activities.”
The Care Quality Commission inspects and regulates online pharmacies based in the U.K. and publishes the approved list on its website. These sites also carry the Care Quality Commission logo.