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Four in 10 online GP firms deemed unsafe by inspectors

26 March 2018 08:38

About 40% of online GP firms are not providing safe care

About 40% of online GP firms are not providing safe care

About 40% of online GP firms are not providing safe care, according to inspectors.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has been investigating the private online market over the past 18 months and have identified 35 companies running services in England.

After launching its inspections, five of the companies halted trading, and 13 of the remaining companies were found to be in breach of safety standards at the end of February.

Prescription problems

The CQC highlighted problems with drug prescriptions and carrying out checks on patients.

The regulator's inspections into the market came after an investigation carried out by the BBC exposed poor practices in online services.

The CQC discovered that:

- antibiotics had been handed out too easily

- too large volumes of opioid-based painkillers had been prescribed

- the systems responsible for responding to safety alerts warning about risks of certain drugs were poor

- lack of checks when prescribing drugs to women who may be pregnant or breastfeeding

- failure to properly check the appropriateness of certain medications, including that for asthma

- prescribing drugs to underage patients before consulting parents

Vast improvement

The inspectors admitted, however, that it was an improvement on the picture a year ago, when 86% of online GPs were not meeting the required standards.

The CQC also warned there could be a gap in its inspection system, as it can only look at firms that are based in England and are offering services to English patients.

CQC chief inspector of general practice Prof Steve Field said online services have a "huge potential".

But he added: "While innovation should be encouraged, it must never come at the expense of quality."

However, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, deemed the findings, "very concerning".

"New services will inevitably experience some teething problems, but when our patients' health is at risk - urgent, swift action must be taken to comprehensively address these before the service is rolled out further."

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