The General Medical Committee (GMC) has launched an inquiry after it was revealed that some online pharmacies have been overprescribing antibiotics.
During a BBC Radio 5 Live investigation into 17 online pharmacies based in the UK, a reporter posing as a patient was given three prescriptions for antibiotics in the space of 24 hours.
The GMC has said such over prescribing, “risks the health of us all”, as earlier research has warned that growing resistance to antibiotics could kill 10 million people by 2050.
One reporter involved in the investigation was given antibiotics for a dental infection even though he did not show any of the symptoms described in guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Over the following two days, the report was given two other prescriptions for a swollen ear and a urine infection.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “Online prescribing is part of a rapidly changing environment and it will have a place in future healthcare delivery. But the doctor’s obligations to patients and their safety does not change because the consultation is online.
“Our prescribing guidance makes it absolutely clear that doctors may prescribe only when they have adequate knowledge of the patient’s health, and are satisfied that the medicines serve the patient’s needs.
“The guidance also makes it clear that they should take account of clinical guidelines published by established organisations with appropriate expertise, such as NICE.”
He added: “Although we cannot comment on specific investigations, the BBC has produced serious allegations and we will be looking into them carefully. Of course the law requires us to consider each case on its merits, but doctors who pose a risk to patients can, and do, face sanctions for mis-prescribing.”
Last year, GP prescribing fell by 2.6 million, Professor Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practice, said was a “notable success”.
She said: “So it’s concerning that patients are increasingly turning to other means to obtain antibiotics, and the ease with which patients can get prescriptions through online pharmacies and online doctors will only serve to hinder our ongoing efforts.