DOCTORS have raised “safety concerns” over a “DELIVEROO-style” pharmacy app after a patient ordered the wrong medication.
It comes as experts warn online pharmacies could make it easier for people to get their hands on “potentially harmful drugs”.
Experts in South West Yorkshire have raised concerns, as has the Royal College of GPs.
Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said online pharmacies aren’t safe.
Patients can get hold of “potentially harmful medications” after answering “vague online questionnaires”, she told the Health Service Journal.
The app, Echo is described as a “simple, free service that delivers medicine to your door”.
It sends reminders to let patients know when and how to take the drugs they’ve ordered.
Patients input the medication they are on, and lets the app know the name of their GP.
Once a person’s GP has approved their prescription, Echo posts the drugs to the patient via Royal Mail, free of charge.
It reminds patients when they need to reorder, and when they should check with their GP.
The app’s founders compare it to the food delivery app Deliveroo, and are supported by NHS Digital and NHS England.
Co-founder Stephen Bourke has argued the app could prove more effective than traditional pharmacists due to the data it has access to.
He said it could have “better insight into whether or not there is a prescribing error, and whether or not a patient understands what they’ve asked for”.
He told The Sun Online: “There are at least nine separate checks before any medication is sent to the patient.
“We also securely verify the patient’s identity to avoid prescription misuse.
“Echo gives people the opportunity to take control of their repeat prescriptions.
“It has a unique team of doctors, pharmacists and technologists behind it, and is on the NHS Digital app store – one of the approved digital tools for patients.
“Managing medication can be a frustrating experience for the patient, and also contribute to significant unnecessary GP appointments.
Documents published by the Calderdale local medical committee in March revealed GPs and pharmacists had raised concerns over the “safety and governance of the Echo app”.
The documents said: “Safety concerns include the fact that patients can order anything via the app – examples mentioned at the South West Yorkshire Area Prescribing Committee meeting included a patient ordering the wrong strength of warfarin (blood thinner) in error, which then caused significant additional workload in the practice to follow up and check the request.”
Calderdale CCG said while concerns have been raised by the SWYAPC, it hasn’t received any direct reports of errors or safety concerns relating to the app.
But, in February it advised patients to only order prescriptions from their GP.
Prof Stokes-Lampard said online pharmacies are a good idea for patients, but only if they adhere to the General Medical Council guidelines and have been deemed safe by the healthcare watchdog, the CQC.
She said: “We know some sites don’t adhere to these measures.
“Procedures around repeat prescriptions are put in place for a reason – to protect patients’ safety – so if providers are in some way bypassing these then it needs to be addressed.”
She said GPs have heard about cases where patients have got their hands on antibiotics, sleeping tablets or highly-addictive opioid painkillers after answering vague online questionnaires.
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The concern is often people at the other end of these apps do not have full access to a person’s full medical history.
Prof Stokes-Lampard warned: “This can have serious consequences on their health and wellbeing.”
Echo is neither a pharmacy nor a dispensary and as a result is not regulated by the CQC or GMC.
An NHS spokesman said: “NHS England is working with a range of services to improve digital access to care as the NHS turns 70, including pharmacies and GPs to develop new solutions to improve clinical communication as part of digital primary care.”