Friday, 10 March 2017

CQC to Bring Forward the Inspection of Online Healthcare Services

The Care Quality Commission is calling on people to act with caution when using online medical consultation services. It has also brought forward its planned programme of inspections for this sector of the healthcare market.

The CQC’s decision follows the urgent inspection of two providers of digital primary care, MD Direct (which had traded through the website and HR Healthcare Ltd (through the website Where inspectors found significant clinical safety and organisational risk to patients, with widespread failings to provide safe care.

Among the concerns which were identified:
·         No (or minimal) identity checks for patients.
·         No way of identifying whether or not patients lacked capacity to consent or understand their prescribed treatment or medical advice, or if there were any safeguarding concerns (and if they were identified, minimal structures in place to handle them).
·         No systems or processes to contact the patient’s regular GP, including when medication was prescribed that required monitoring or follow-up
·         Prescribing practice that did not take account of the patient’s clinical condition or consider differential diagnoses.
·         Inadequate medical history-taking to inform appropriate prescribing.
·         No assurances that clinicians had relevant skills or qualifications for the role they were performing.
Immediately after the inspections, the CQC suspended the registration of HR Healthcare Ltd. MD Direct responded to CQC’s concerns by voluntarily cancelling its registration. Both providers have stopped providing services to patients in England ( now uses an alternative online GP provider for its prescription service).

In a joint statement, four regulatory bodies – the CQC, the General Medical Council, the General Pharmaceutical Council, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency - have reminded providers and healthcare professionals working for these services that they must provide safe and effective care, including following professional guidelines.

Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector of General Practice at the Care Quality Commission, said: “We know that these websites can present convenient ways for people to access advice, treatment and medication.

“However some services may be putting patients at risk. We are particularly concerned that risks to patients may not always be appropriately assessed or managed when they buy medicines online.

“As with conventional GP surgeries, these online companies and pharmacies are required to provide safe, high-quality and compassionate care and must adhere to exactly the same standards. They must not cut corners.

“We will continue to work closely with the other regulatory bodies to share intelligence where we have concerns and take action where necessary. Providers and clinicians must be clear on their responsibilities to protect people who use their services.”

“We will now visit each provider, working closely in partnership with the relevant regulators, and checking that providers are following the appropriate professional guidance. We will take action to cancel or suspend the registration of providers who are putting their patients at risk."

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