The guidance explains what pharmacy owners should consider before deciding whether any parts of their pharmacy service can be provided safely and effectively at a distance (including on the internet), rather than in the traditional face-to-face way.

Updates to the guidance, which was originally published in 2019, include: 

  • providing additional examples, such as the types of collection and delivery services
  • further clarity around identity-checking of people using the service 
  • aligning the guidance with our prescribing guidance
  • updates following guidance produced by others, including the GMC 

The GPhC wrote on its website:

We are writing to pharmacy owners to ask them to review the updated guidance and make sure it is followed within their pharmacy. Everyone in the pharmacy team, including managers with delegated responsibility and the responsible pharmacist, should understand the guidance and be aware of their responsibilities to follow it. 

The guidance should be used alongside the standards for registered pharmacies, our inspection decision making framework and the standards for pharmacy professionals and its supporting guidance. 

During this interim review of the guidance, some stakeholders questioned why it was necessary for pharmacy websites to be ‘arranged so that a person cannot choose a prescription-only medicine (POM) and its quantity before there has been an appropriate consultation with a prescriber.’ The GPhC Council discussed this issue at its December meeting and agreed that this requirement provided an important safeguard for patients and the public using online services, and that it should remain in place. However, to provide clarity, the words ‘and its quantity’ have been removed in the updated version of the guidance.

Our Council’s decision was informed by the principle that medicines are not ordinary items of commerce and must not be treated as such. The decision was also informed by insights from our inspections of pharmacies providing services on the internet. The Council heard that our inspectors have observed the relative immaturity of operating models and prescribing practice in online pharmacies when compared to other types of provider, as well as under-developed clinical governance structures.

During inspections, our inspectors identified examples of pharmacy governance models without the appropriate monitoring, after-care and safeguarding, and have taken appropriate action in response to protect patient safety.  

In August 2021, we wrote to pharmacy organisations to highlight the serious patient safety concerns we had identified relating to online prescribing services. These concerns include cases relating to registered pharmacies dispensing POMs from prescribers based in the EEA working alone or for third party online prescribing services.    

This is a fast-changing area, and it is important that we respond quickly and effectively to developments. We will continue to consider what further steps we should take to strengthen online pharmacy regulation, to help us to achieve our ten-year vision of safe and effective pharmacy care at the heart of healthier communities.

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