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Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 03:44 GMT
UK's first online pharmacy opens
chemist High Street chemists now face online competition

Fears about patients' access to drugs have been triggered by the launch of the UK's first online pharmacy.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said it has "concerns" about the use of internet prescribing and it wants to know more about the Pharmacy2u service.

And the National Pharmaceutical Association (NPA) said it was "not at all happy" about the move.

High profile drugs limited by the NHS, such as the anti-flu drug Relenza and the anti-impotence treatment Viagra, are among those available through the internet service.

Patients can now use the online pharmacy to buy medicines at what are claimed to be cheaper prices than High Street chemists.

It is something that causes us some concern
Dr George Rae, BMA
Though the service is currently only available for private prescriptions and a paper copy from the doctor must be provided, there are plans to develop the service for NHS patients and use emailed prescriptions in the future.

Dr George Rae, chairman of the BMA's prescribing committee, said: "I would advise against getting private prescriptions over the internet because the patient's GP is not involved and that is where things can go wrong. It is something that causes us some concern."

Colette McCreedy, head of the practice division at the NPA, which represents all pharmacists, said: "Medicines are special, they are not like ordinary items of commerce, and so they need to be treated specially.

Supervison requirements

"We would suggest it is not satisfying the supervision requirements of the Medicines Act."

The industry's code of ethics says drugs should not be available by mail order, which the NPA argued the internet service was a form of.

The company said it had safeguards in place to ensure medicines were getting to the right people, including a "pharmacy protocol" where each patient must give details of their symptoms and whether they had used the drug before.

A spokesman pointed to the success of similar enterprises in the US which had been welcomed by patients.

The drugs will be delivered by a distribution network set up by Pharmacy2u.

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See also:
12 Mar 99 |  Health
Cheaper medicines one step closer
11 Oct 99 |  Health
Dobson tells doctors to shun flu drug
09 Jun 99 |  Health
Doctors fight chemist revolution

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