‘Inadequate’ online prescriptions service faces questions over its future

PrivateDoc, based in Stowmarket, produces online prescriptions for patients Picture: GETTY IMAGES/IS

PrivateDoc, based in Stowmarket, produces online prescriptions for patients Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A prescription website has been slammed for a second time by health inspectors, raising questions about its future.

Regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is taking action against PrivateDoc, based in Stowmarket, which could mean it has to close.

Urgent and rapid improvements are needed to prevent that from happening, the CQC’s chief inspector Dr Rosie Benneyworth warned after inspecting the online service earlier this year and rating it “inadequate”.

Company bosses said they take the CQC’s concerns “very seriously” and are working closely with the watchdog to make improvements.

The service, set up in 2012, allows patients to request prescriptions online by filling in a consultation form.

Screenshot from PrivateDoc's website Picture: PRIVATEDOC

Screenshot from PrivateDoc's website Picture: PRIVATEDOC - Credit: PRIVATEDOC

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These are reviewed by a GP, and a private prescription is issued if appropriate, before being sent to an affiliated pharmacy.

PrivateDoc was put in special measures last July after CQC experts found the process for completing patient identification checks was ineffective.

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It meant the CQC could not be sure prescriptions were being issued and delivered to the correct person.

Flaws in the provider’s system also allowed people requesting weight loss medicines to overwrite information such as their height, weight and body mass index.

At a second inspection in February, which has now been published, experts discovered:

• The provider’s process for completing patient ID checks had improved. However, the CQC found evidence PrivateDoc had manually approved a patient’s prescription request without a date of birth.

• The CQC still could not be sure the named account holder was the person receiving and using the order.

• There were no procedures to manage or respond to an emergency, i.e. if a patient fell ill.

• One patient had suffered potentially serious side effects from prescribed medicine. Staff tried to but could not get hold of the patient, so sent an email. The CQC said the person was not given adequate advice in the email to stop the medicine or seek emergency help – and PrivateDoc accepted this.

But they also found:

• Action had been taken to prevent people from altering their height, weight and BMI when requesting weight loss medicines.

• The provider was rated as “excellent” and five stars from 2,429 reviews online. Recent reviews included compliments on the speed of the consultation process and delivery.

Dr Benneyworth said insufficient improvements were made in the February 2020 inspection and PrivateDoc’s services were rated “inadequate” for safety, effectiveness and leadership. It remains in special measures.

She said: “We are taking action in line with our enforcement procedures to begin the process of preventing the provider from operating the service.

“This will lead to cancelling their registration or varying their terms.

“The service will be kept under review and if needed could be escalated to urgent enforcement action.

She added: “Where necessary, another inspection will be conducted within six months, and if there is not enough improvement, we will move to close the service.”

Despite the CQC’s criticism, PrivateDoc’s managing director Paul Marshall said the firm was “extremely proud” of the service it provides, adding that improvements were acknowledged.

“Naturally we are disappointed with the rating but we would expect any other provider to be pulled up on shortcomings in the same way that we have been, no matter how infrequent these shortcomings occur as was the case with their findings,” he said.

“We are working with CQC colleagues very closely at this time as we continue to implement remediations to our service, with a significant investment of time in training and quality checks.

“We have employed machine learning technology to monitor the use of delivery addresses as a safety measure and created personalised treatment plans for certain categories of medication.

He added: “We are optimistic that the changes we are making will set the standard for the online market going forward.”

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