Tighter regulations on selling medicines online announced


Online pharmacies in Great Britain will have to follow updated guidance from the pharmacy regulator to protect people from getting medicines online.


The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has strengthened its guidance (1) for pharmacy owners to help make sure that people can only obtain medicines from online pharmacies that are safe and clinically appropriate for them.


Online research by YouGov commissioned by the GPhC (2) found that 25% of people say they are likely to use online pharmacies in the future, but 50% of those unlikely to do so have concerns about the safety of online pharmacies. After considering feedback from the sector, patients and the public to proposals published last year (3), the GPhC has introduced further safeguards for patients and the public in the following key areas:


Making sure medicines are clinically appropriate for patients – online pharmacies will have to make sure:


  • Antimicrobials (antibiotics).
  • Medicines liable to abuse, overuse or misuse, or where there is a risk of addiction and ongoing monitoring is important. For example, opiates, sedatives, laxatives, pregabalin and gabapentin.
  • Medicines that require ongoing monitoring or management. For example, those used to treat diabetes, asthma, epilepsy and mental health conditions.
  • Non-surgical cosmetic medicinal products, such as Botox.


These safeguards include making sure the prescriber proactively shares all relevant information about the prescription with the patient’s GP after seeking the patient’s consent.


In the case of medicines liable to abuse, overuse or misuse, or when there is a risk of addiction and ongoing monitoring is important, the online pharmacy should have checked that the GP has confirmed to the prescriber that the prescription is appropriate and that monitoring is in place. In cases where a patient does not have a GP or a regular prescriber, or if there is no consent to share information and the prescriber has still issued a prescription, the online pharmacy should make sure the prescriber has made a clear record setting out their justification for issuing the prescription.


  • Transparency and patient choice – pharmacy owners will have to supply more details about where the service and health professionals involved in prescribing and supplying the medicine are based and how they are regulated, so people have enough information to make an informed decision about using the service and can raise concerns about the service if they need to.
  • Regulatory oversight – pharmacy owners working with prescribers or prescribing services operating outside the UK must take steps to successfully manage the additional risks that this may create, including assuring themselves that the prescriber is working within national prescribing guidelines for the UK.


These new safeguards received strong support overall from more than 800 individuals and organisations responding to a discussion paper published last year.


Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council said:


“We support pharmacy services being provided in innovative ways, including online, as long as the services are safe and effective for people. But providing pharmacy services online carries particular risks which need to be successfully managed. People can be put at serious risk if they are able to obtain medicines that are not appropriate for them. We are now putting in place this updated guidance with further safeguards to protect people.


“I would strongly urge patients and the public wanting to obtain medicines online to only use online pharmacies registered with us, to protect their health. These pharmacies have to meet our standards and follow this guidance, so they provide safe and effective services, and we will be inspecting pharmacies to make sure this is the case. We are also continuing to work closely with other regulators involved in regulating online primary care services, governments and other stakeholders across Great Britain to improve the quality of care for patients online.”


RPS President Ash Soni said:


“The RPS welcome this updated guidance from GPhC to improve the protection of patients seeking medicines at a distance, including online.


“We are particularly pleased to see that the requirement for additional safeguards for certain categories of prescription only medicines – which include antibiotics, medicines liable for abuse and medicines that require ongoing monitoring or management – have been strengthened in the guidance document. Patient safety in relation to medicines is central to any pharmaceutical service.


“Furthermore, we welcome the fact that the GPhC has addressed our long held concerns that some websites have enabled patients to select which medicines they want rather than taking a consultation-based approach. An online consultation should meet the same standards as a face-to-face consultation.”




(1) The guidance for registered pharmacies providing pharmacy services at a distance including on the internet can be read here.
(2)  All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2040 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th – 9th August 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
(3) The consultation report can be found here.