Did you know there are three types of online pharmacies?
Whilst most online pharmacies that prescribe medicine comply with the same regulator as your local GP, there are some that don’t.
These online pharmacies can potentially exploit loopholes so they can legally prescribe medicine, without being regulated by the same governing body as your local GP.
Panorama highlighted these legal loopholes in an episode that aired in August 2018. Watch the full documentary
The MHRA is a government body that authorises a website to sell medicines.
It is mandatory for all websites selling medicine to the public to register with the MHRA and display a digital logo on each page that displays a medicine.
This logo is used across the EU and shows the website is registered with the relevant regulatory body in their country and is legally permitted to sell medicines online.
In the UK, the logo should link through to their seller page on the MHRA’s public register.
It is just as necessary on a webpage selling paracetamol as it is on site selling prescription-only medicine.Here is an example of the logo:
The General Pharmaceutical Council ensures online pharmacies provide only genuine licensed medicines and the pharmacy and its pharmacists are fit to practise in the UK.
It is a legal requirement for any pharmacy (high street or online) to register with the GPhC. The registration guarantees that the medicine you receive is legitimate and supplied from a registered UK pharmacy.
However, unlike the MHRA, the GPhC’s ‘registered pharmacy’ badge scheme is voluntary, so you may not see the logo on a online pharmacy’s website, even if it is registered.
If the online pharmacy’s website doesn’t display a ‘registered pharmacy’ logo then you can search for the pharmacy name on the GPhC register.
Here is an example of the GPhC’s ‘registered pharmacy’ logo:
The Care Quality Commission is the independent body responsible for the regulation of health and adult social care in England.
This means the CQC reviews UK healthcare services, including UK-based GPs and doctors.
The CQC reviews their practices to make sure they comply with the correct UK standards of care.
Every doctor at your local GP surgery will have been assessed by the CQC.
While the CQC assesses most doctors and GPs that work for online pharmacies, some online pharmacies employ doctors from outside of the UK, or use pharmacists to prescribe, instead of doctors or GPs, and therefore cannot be regulated by the CQC.
Not being registered with the CQC is not illegal, but it means if you are buying medicine from an online pharmacy that is non CQC-registered, you cannot be sure it is complying with the same standards of care as your local GP or doctor would.Here’s a full list of online pharmacies that are regulated by the CQC.
Maximum registration, maximum compliance, maximum safety
They are the safest option for buying medication online as these pharmacies adhere to the maximum amount of compliance a pharmacy possibly can.
CQC-registered online pharmacies should display each of these three regulatory bodies’ logos on their website, but it’s worth noting the GPhC’s logo isn’t mandatory to display like the other two regulatory bodies logos are:
May not adhere to the same standards as your registered GP
As pointed out in the Panorama documentary, some online pharmacies use overseas doctors that are paid per prescription to approve the sale of medicines. Or they don’t use doctors, but instead issue prescription medication through prescribing pharmacists.
This means they cannot be regulated by the CQC and may not adhere to the same standards as your local GP who is CQC regulated.
If you don’t see the CQC logo on a pharmacy’s website, you cannot be sure its prescribing practices are of the required UK standard.
You can find a list of CQC inspected online prescribing sites here.
No restrictions, no medical professionals, no patient consultations
If a site selling medicines doesn’t have any of the three governing bodies' logos, it is likely to be an illegal site and should not be trusted.
Further clues that a site shouldn’t be trusted are:
Buying from one of these sites means you aren’t necessarily dealing with trained medical professionals.
These unregulated drugs are potentially extremely high risk, they may have been tampered with or might even be fake.
1 in 4 doctors have treated a patient for a negative reaction to medicine they bought online.