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This week you may have seen in the medical press that two GPs have recently been suspended by a medical practitioner’s tribunal (following a GMC investigation) for inappropriate prescribing with the White Pharmacy, a digital provider. Both were found to have prescribed opioids without adequate safeguards in place while working for the company.
The CQC has previously reported that 43% of online providers have been deemed unsafe in some respect and while some are performing safely and effectively, others are not. Most of these companies didn’t exist five years ago, and it’s important that we as GPs don’t get caught out by their lack of organisational maturity. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t come with a background in clinical governance and it’s easy for issues to be missed in a new start-up.
As more of us decide to make our smart devices work for us and take on work for digital first providers, it’s important we are all aware of the risks and benefits of doing so. I spoke to GP Ed Pooley to try and understand what happened. He acknowledged he fell seriously below the standards required having prescribed medicines to patients who should have had additional safeguards in place. However, the policies and procedures of the organisation itself created a risky environment. The company wasn’t routinely sharing information with the registered GP and a lack of access to the medical records meant it was difficult to know what constituted safe prescribing.
A three-month suspension from the medical register is a stark warning to any of us who are considering the jump to an online company. The message to all of us is that whoever you are working for the medicine you practise has to be safe at all times, whatever the company policies may say. It’s not all bleak and scary, these companies represent an opportunity for flexible and innovative working - but it is important you have your eyes open to the risks.
If you are working for a digital first provider the BMA has developed guidance on areas to consider. Every company is different, but there are some common themes including securing a decent contract, indemnity, CPD and good governance; we take you through the headlines you should be aware of. If you are unsure ask questions. The BMA is always here to answer queries you may have. Contact us
The chances are that at some point in the next few years most of us will start doing some online work and there are lots of benefits to doing so. Before I do though, I’ll be brushing up on the BMA’s guidance and CQC advice, and I’ll have Dr Pooley in the back of my mind too.
Ben Molyneux is the chair of the Sessional GPC Committee and a London-based GP
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