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More than two in five providers of online primary care services rated ‘unsafe’

by Valeria Fiore
23 March 2018

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More than two in five online primary care service providers are ‘unsafe’, a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has found.

The report published today (23 March) on inspections carried out up to 28 February also revealed that online primary care services improved since they were first inspected in November 2016, when 86% of these services were not providing safe care.

The regulatory body was given full powers to rate online GP services in January by the Department of Health and Social Care, in a bid to ensure patients would receive safe and quality by online providers.  

Safety concerns

The CQC raised several concerns on the safety of online services, which in some cases were related to poor communication with the patient’s GP practice.

In some cases, providers of online GP services were ‘not collecting patient information or sharing information with a patient’s NHS GP, who should have an accurate and up to date record of their previous and current treatments and health problems’, the CQC said.

The report read: ‘In one case, a provider had not shared over 400 patient contacts with GPs, when they had the consent to do so and should have done.’

Another issue the report highlights is some providers were inappropriately prescribing antibiotics, or ‘prescribing high volumes of opioid-based medicines without talking to the patient’s registered GP’.

Commenting on the report, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (RCGP), said: ‘The inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics poses risks to individual patients but also is of great concern to the wider public – and the failure to collect and share a patient’s data with their NHS GP could certainly have a detrimental effect on their future care.’

‘We must work together’

CQC chief inspector of general practice professor Steve Field said that although online GP services offer a convenient option to many patients, ‘innovation should never come at the expense of quality’.

He added: ‘We must all work together – providers by using our inspection findings to learn and improve, and oversight bodies by working together and continuing to have a positive dialogue with providers – to ensure that this model fulfils its promise of accessible, responsive care while ensuring that the care delivered is always safe and high quality.’

Spreading awareness

Professor Stokes-Lampard said that the RCGP is developing guidance for ‘patients, GPs and commissioners who are considering alternatives to face-to-face consultations, to encourage them to only do so after careful consideration of all potential risks and benefits’.

Virtual GP services might ask patients to leave their former GP practice to join a practice offering their service, such as in the case of NHS GP at hand service.

Practice manager at The Jubilee Street Practice in Tower Hamlets Virginia Patania said: ‘We are working to improve our patients’ understanding of what it means to de-register from their GP practice to join online GP services.

‘Practices have to cope with additional pressures when they have to re-register a patient who previously de-registered from the physical GP practice.’