The Care Quality Commission has cracked down on potentially unsafe online prescribers that fail to carry out adequate identity checks or to review a patient’s medical history.
One service has been suspended after prescribing drugs after a 17 second assessment.
The Royal College of GPs backed the enforcement action, saying prescription medicines could not be handed out ‘like sweets’.
On Thursday, the CQC announced it was taking regulatory action and using its urgent enforcement powers to suspend registrations or impose conditions on four online prescribers.
The healthcare regulator said the issues with the online primary care services included insufficient identity checks, inappropriate prescriptions and poor recording of medical history.
One service, Doctor Matt Ltd, has had its registration suspended until the end of June as it was issuing prescriptions after reviewing patient questionnaires for just 17 seconds.
Another, White Pharmacy Ltd, had conditions placed on it by the CQC after it was found to be prescribing opioid-based medicine without proper patient identification systems.
The regulator said I-GP Ltd must improve how it verifies patient identity.
A fourth service, Frosts Pharmacy Ltd, was issued with warning notices after prescribing large quantities of asthma inhalers without adequate checks on the patient’s condition.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, responded to the news in a statement, saying: “We cannot tolerate a laissez faire attitude towards dispensing of prescription medication; they are not sweets”.
She said the CQC are “absolutely right to take a hard line against this”.
A CQC spokesman said there were 47 online prescribers registered with the regulator, and inspections will occur on all within three to six months.
Gerald Heddell, director of inspection, enforcement and standards at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said that a proper consultation with a medical professional is essential before prescribing.
“We are checking the websites of providers subject to CQC action to ensure that they are compliant with the requirements of medicines legislation. Online suppliers that are not operating within the legal framework will have the logo withdrawn.”
Heddell said the MHRA was working closely with the CQC and General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to protect patients.
A GPhC spokesperson said: “We are carrying out inspections to ensure that pharmacies linked to online prescribers are meeting standards and are highlighting any areas where they need to improve.”
Steve Field, the CQC’s chief inspector of general practice, said in a statement that the same standards must be met online as in traditional GP settings.
“It is understandable that people want convenient access to advice and medicines, but it is important that providers do not compromise on patient safety.”