The latest online provider to have its CQC report published – Push Doctor, a digital health app that offers video-call GP consultations – failed on three out of the five key questions checked by inspectors and was found not to be safe, effective or well-led.
Inspectors said it was prescribing high-risk medicines to patients without performing proper checks, had no formal identification process for children and in at least one case was prescribing drugs for uses beyond their licenses.
It is the ninth online primary care provider to be rated by the CQC under its new methodology launched earlier this year – and the ninth to be rated unsafe by inspectors.
There are 39 online providers in total registered with the CQC, meaning at least one in four of those operating in the country are considered unsafe at this early stage.
GPonline has previously reported that the watchdog suspended the registration of at least one provider after discovering it signed off prescriptions with little to no checks that patients actually needed the medicines.
A CQC spokesman said the watchdog had chosen to prioritise inspecting services thought to pose the greatest risk. It aims to have inspected all online providers by this autumn.
A CQC report earlier this year said it had ‘serious concerns’ regarding the quality of care devliered by some online providers.
It said it was taking steps to tighten up regulation in the sector, including committing to inspect all new services within three months of registration in future.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The rapid development of these services which have subsequently been found to be unsafe is a great concern.
‘Patients could be put at risk as a result of using such services and government, NHS England and regulators should be doing more to alert patients to these dangers.’
Professor Steve Field, chief inspector of general practice, said: ‘We expect the same standards of quality and safety to be met as we would see in more traditional GP settings – this is exactly what people deserve.
‘Online companies, and the people working for them, have a duty to protect the people seeking their support. They must follow relevant guidance and best practice to make sure that they know who they are communicating with, how medicines fit in with their medical history, and that their GP is made aware of any prescribing decisions.
‘This might be a new way of working but the risks and responsibilities need to be understood and action taken in response. As the regulator of health and social care, we will continue to play our part in guaranteeing this.’
Push Doctor CEO Eren Ozagir said: ‘We continually conduct thorough reviews of our processes to ensure we provide a safe and reliable service of the highest integrity to our patients. We are aware of the draft report, within which we found a large number of factual inaccuracies, which we are working on with the CQC currently to correct.
‘The guidelines that we were inspected against are completely new, in fact not fully finalised and a copy of these were provided to us post inspection, not before, as such we were operating to a different set of CQC standards.
‘We will continue to work closely with the CQC to ensure our service continues to meet the necessary guidelines. We continue to break new ground in affordable patient primary care and believe in widening easy and seamless access to healthcare for all patients.’