Doctors and all other independent prescriber groups, such as nurse prescribers, work under the auspices of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) - except for pharmacy prescribers.
If a doctor wishes to provide a private diagnostic and prescription service, CQC registration is required. A pharmacist prescriber undertaking similar work is not required to register with the CQC.
This may sound like a minor matter, but the CQC has a comprehensive process of registration which looks at all aspects of service provision. Registration usually involves an inspection, interview, a fee and annual reporting, audit and re-inspection.
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), which oversees pharmacy prescribing, does not have a similar process for registering and monitoring pharmacy prescribing services. Pharmacist prescribers are not revalidated in the same way as doctors.
This anomaly throws up some interesting questions for regulators, particularly in the internet age.
Pharmacists are increasingly prescribing online and not always to the same standards. The patients of pharmacists have no recourse to the CQC.
The GPhC is primarily a regulator of pharmacy services, and does not have specific guidance for operating a pharmacy website or for prescribing remotely.
Pharmacists appear to operate in a partial regulatory gap.
- Dr Tony Steele is medical director of Dr Fox online doctors and pharmacy service
The Health and Social Care Act 2008 and 2012
Dr Fox provides consultations online by UK GMC registered doctors for prescription medication posted direct to patients.