Close to half of online providers – services that offer online prescriptions and, in some cases, full GP consultations over the internet – have now been rated by the CQC, with 82% of these found to be unsafe.
Just three out of the 17 rated so far overall have met requried safety standards. These include LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, Now GP and Frosts’ Pharmacy – with the latter winning the rating upon re-inspection after initially being found unsafe.
The CQC does not currently have the legal powers to give online services an overall rating as it does for GP practices, although it is looking to change this in the future.
Instead, it rates them as a pass or fail for each of its five key questions – asking whether services safe, effective, responsive, caring and well-led. In absence of an overall rating, it takes action against providers deemed to be unsafe.
GPonline reported earlier this year that the first nine online primary care services it rated – accounting for around a quarter of those in the country – were all found to be unsafe.
The CQC said it had prioritised inspecting providers it was most concerned about, which could explain why there was a front loading of ‘unsafe’ reports.
But there are 39 online providers registered with the CQC, meaning the 14 rated unsafe represent a third of providers operating in the UK, even if all others are found to be safe.
Three quarters failed to meet CQC’s definition of ‘effective’, and the same proportion missed out on being rated ‘well-led’. On the other hand, the vast majority (94%) have been found ‘caring’ and only a third (35%) fell down on not being ‘responsive’.
The watchdog launched its current methodology for online providers in March, and projects to have inspected them all by this autumn.
GPC chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'It is very concerning that so many online primary care providers have been found to be unsafe. This is an area that government and NHS England have been far too slow to respond to and far too willing to permit the growth of an area that is now clearly putting patients at risk. Urgent action needs to be taken to address this before serious harm occurs.'