A new Care Quality Commission report on online primary care services has found that while there has been strong improvement since the last raft of inspections, 43 per cent are still not providing a ‘safe’ level of care. 

Since November 2016, the health and adult social care regulator has carried out 55 inspections across the 35 companies in England that provide online primary care services such as GP consultations and prescriptions. Providers have been assessed against five areas – whether they are safe, caring, effective, responsive to people’s needs and well-led.

While 97 per cent of care providers met the criteria to be judged as ‘caring’ and 90 per cent were assessed as being ‘responsive’ to people’s needs, the CQC found that safety was still an area for concern upon the latest re-inspections, with 43 per cent found to be failing in this area.

Particular causes for concern included:

  • Inappropriate prescribing of medicines, including: reducing the threshold for antibiotic prescribing as a physical examination was not possible; issuing high-volume prescriptions for opioid-based medicines without speaking to a patient’s GP; and inappropriate prescribing of medicines for long-term conditions such as asthma
  • Failure to appropriately safeguard children and those who may not have the mental capacity to understand or consent to a consultation
  • Failure to collect patient information or to share information with a patient’s NHS GP.

However, safety was also the area in which the CQC identified the greatest improvement – with an improvement from 86 per cent not meeting criteria on their first inspection. The regulator says some providers even addressed problems on the day they were inspected, such as by deciding to no longer prescribe certain medicines.

Professor Steve Field, the CQC’s chief inspector of general practice said: “This way of delivering primary care has an important place in the future of health provision – but it is still evolving. We must all work together – providers by using our inspection findings to learn and improve, and oversight bodies by working together and continuing to have a positive dialogue with providers – to ensure that this model fulfils its promise of accessible, responsive care while ensuring that the care delivered is always safe and high quality.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It’s very concerning to see that even now, 43 per cent of online consultation providers have been deemed unsafe in some respect. New services will inevitably experience some teething problems, but when our patients’ health is at risk urgent, swift action must be taken to comprehensively address these before the service is rolled out further.

“The inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics, for example, poses risks to individual patients but also is of great concern to the wider public – and the failure to collect and share a patient’s data with their NHS GP could certainly have a detrimental effect on their future care.”

Originally Published by Pharmacy Magazine

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