Now Healthcare responds to CQC investigation on online pharmacies

In his latest blog, CEO & founder of Now Healthcare Group Lee Dentith discusses the importance of patient safety in digital healthcare, following the closure of two services deemed unsafe by the Care Quality Commission.

In October 2016 I was overwhelmed with pride when my company Now Healthcare Group, just two years into its existence, was inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and found to be the first and only digital health provider in the UK meeting all regulations.

Our service, the way we care for our patients and our commitment to providing healthcare of the highest standard were all deemed exemplary. Our performance in the inspection was judged to be so positive that it saw us selected to set the standard for all future digital healthcare inspections – a standard which all other providers must now adhere to if they wish to continue operations in the UK.

Today, I was alerted to the news that a large number of the CQC’s digital health service inspections of companies providing online primary care have raised significant concerns about patient safety. Two providers in particular were deemed to be putting patients at risk of harm by providing medicines without completing the necessary checks beforehand. In both of these alarming cases, the companies have since been forced to stop providing services in England.

As a man who is extremely passionate about our country’s healthcare services and as someone who obviously champions the embracing of new technologies that will benefit the future of primary care, I’m delighted that the CQC – an organisation that I have the utmost respect for – is taking such measures to ensure that the quality of healthcare provided is consistently faultless, regardless of how it is delivered.

“As with conventional GP surgeries, online companies and pharmacies are required to provide safe, high-quality and compassionate care and must adhere to exactly the same standards. They must not cut corners. Some services may be putting patients at risk. We are particularly concerned that risks to patients may not always be appropriately assessed or managed when they buy medicines online.”

Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector of General Practice for the Care Quality Commission

It is unquestionably obvious that well-run digital health services can offer a convenient and effective form of treatment for today’s on-the-go society, but I am in full agreement with Professor Steve Field – patient safety must be of paramount importance and simply cannot be compromised.

While it is of course disappointing to see other digital healthcare services failing in this area, it re-emphasises the fantastic achievements of Now Healthcare Group in our own inspection, and I’m so proud to be able to lead by example in this increasingly competitive industry. For me, today’s news reaffirms to our patients and customers that they are being served by the UK’s leading digital healthcare provider.

However, we will not rest on our laurels – it’s of vital importance that the CQC continues to maintain this high standard of digital healthcare across the board, and regular checks and inspections are crucial to the future of an industry that is full of incredible potential.

Since the results of our investigation last year, we’ve continued to work extremely closely with both the CQC and the NHS to ensure that digital healthcare provision in this country is of an impeccable standard. We are proud to have been working with the NHS directly over the past eight months to supply tens of thousands of NHS repeat prescriptions to patients across the UK. Having our own CQC-approved, NHS-registered pharmacy (Now Pharmacy) allows us to handle every aspect of primary healthcare, from diagnosis to medicine delivery. We are also the only telehealth specialist to be selected to be part of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme, working with the NHS to drive innovation in the healthcare sector.

I’m well aware that one of our competitors is also currently working with the NHS to trial new artificial intelligence software within the increasingly overstretched 111 service. However, this service is yet to be inspected by the CQC and I do have strong concerns about the potential dangers of using such a new, untested technology in a direct patient setting. Today’s news reaffirms that patient safety simply cannot be taken for granted and is not something to take a chance on, and I sincerely hope that the CQC plans to regulate this aforementioned service as soon as possible.

I’ll end this piece by once again reaffirming my support for the CQC on this matter, and applaud the commissioning body for ensuring that patient safety across the digital healthcare sector remains uncompromised, unwavering and follows the example set by Now Healthcare Group back in October. I look forward to continuing to drive our service forward in safe and regulated manner, which will see our patient numbers hit the 25 million mark later this year.


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