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Online pharmacy prescriptions have doubled as patients turn to websites because they can’t see a GP

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Patients are being put at risk because online pharmacies are dispensing drugs in dangerously large quantities with little control, a watchdog has warned.

Last year, twice as many prescriptions were written on pharmacy websites than before the pandemic, a sign that Britons are increasingly turning to the internet after struggling to access a GP.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPC) has issued a safety warning amid concerns that too many online pharmacies are dispensing drugs without proper oversight.

In a letter sent out yesterday, the regulator said a “disproportionate” 30 per cent of the cases it investigates involve online pharmacies.

This despite the fact that these pharmacies only represented a fraction of the sector compared to traditional brick and mortar establishments.

The GPC said the drugs are prescribed solely through an online questionnaire, with no interaction with the patient’s GP.

It also found that high-risk drugs were prescribed without monitoring, as well as drugs that were dispensed in large quantities over a short period of time.

One pharmaceutical industry leader said Britons are increasingly turning to Google to self-diagnose and order drugs when they struggle to see their GP.

NHS figures show online pharmacies dispensed 53 million items last year, up from 42 million in 2020 and almost double the 29 million in 2019, before the pandemic.

Pharmacy regulators have issued a safety warning to online pharmacies after discovering some were dispensing drugs, including high-risk drugs, based on a simple online patient questionnaire (pictured).

Pharmacy regulators have issued a safety warning to online pharmacies after discovering some were dispensing drugs, including high-risk drugs, based on a simple online patient questionnaire (pictured).

Just 27,558 fully qualified GPs were working full-time in England last month, down 1.6 per cent on the 18,000 recorded in June 2021. This was down 5.3 per cent from more than 29,000 working in June 2017.

Just 27,558 fully qualified GPs were working full-time in England last month, down 1.6 per cent on the 18,000 recorded in June 2021. This was down 5.3 per cent from more than 29,000 working in June 2017.

Experts warn more heart patients will die on waiting lists as queues grow unless action is taken to stem crisis

More heart patients will die waiting for life-saving care unless urgent action is taken to tackle the NHS’s record backlog, charities warned today.

The number of people on cardiology waiting lists has grown every month for two years, with services remaining “extremely disrupted”.

Almost half a million have missed heart treatment or diagnostic tests since January 2020, according to NHS figures.

Many patients live with a heart that is a “ticking time bomb” because the longer the wait for treatment, the greater the risk of death or disability from heart failure.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said people were already dying “needlessly” on waiting lists and warned that more would perish if the “cardiac crisis” was allowed to continue.

The warning comes as the latest figures from NHS England show that 333,915 people were waiting for heart surgery or diagnostic tests at the end of June – an increase of 8,347 in a month.

It is also 45 percent higher than the 229,490 pending at the end of June 2019.

For the first time, more than 100,000 heart patients (104,134) are waiting longer than the 18-week target, representing one in three patients on the cardiac list.

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Alarmingly, 5,867 have been waiting for more than a year – a record high and 210 times more than before the pandemic, when just 28 people were waiting that long.

At the same time, the number of general practitioners who would traditionally issue a prescription has decreased.

Official figures show the number of GPs has fallen to an all-time low, with only one in four family doctors working full-time.

There were around 27,500 fully qualified permanent family doctors working for the NHS in England last month, down from around 28,000 in June 2021 and 1,500 fewer than five years ago.

Patients have struggled to make appointments or see doctors face-to-face, which has seen some desperate people resort to A&E.

Only about 65 percent of meetings were face-to-face in June, the most recent month for which data is available, down from nearly 80 percent before the pandemic.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told The Telegraph: “If you don’t see your GP, people get desperate and start taking treatment, especially when they’re in pain.

“The danger is that it becomes a Google diagnosis and patients end up at risk with drugs that can do a lot of harm.”

The GPC has now written to pharmacy owners: “We are writing to inform you of the serious patient safety concerns we continue to identify in relation to some online pharmacies and online prescribing services.”

Regulators have registered 635 online pharmacies in the UK.

That’s a fraction of the 14,000 physical pharmacies.

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This means that online operators make up a huge proportion of those investigated by the GPC.

The regulator said it had taken enforcement action against 50 online pharmacies since March 2019 over patient safety concerns.

“We also have a number of ongoing investigations into other pharmacists working for online services and expect to take further action,” the GPC letter said.

Of those inspected by the regulator, only 71 per cent of online pharmacists met GPC standards, compared to 85 per cent across the sector.

In its letter, the GPC said it recognized the “significant benefits” to patients of using online services and that it welcomed innovation in prescribing and drug delivery.

But he added that prescribing drugs online carries particular patient safety risks that need to be managed.

In a separate letter to all pharmacists, the GPC told them not to work with online stores that try to breach UK patient safety rules,

“You should not work with online providers who seek to circumvent the regulatory oversight put in place in the UK to ensure patient safety,” it said.

The GPC chief executive, Duncan Rudkin, urged people to be careful when taking medicines online and follow the watchdog’s safety tips.

“We would encourage people who want to get medicines online to only use online pharmacies registered with the GPC, to ask questions about how the service works and to answer questions about their health fully and accurately,” he said.

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