Four in 10 online GP firms are unsafe, says quality regulator

The Care Quality Commission has found that 43% of online GP service providers fail to meet the required standards in terms of providing ‘safe’ care, according to a new report.

[London, UK] The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is urging the health and care system in England to ensure that online primary care service providers meet the safety standards set by NHS GP practices. 

While the CQC found improvements in the quality of care during the past 12 months, it says further action is needed, according to a new report published last week.

The assessment is based on five key areas looking at whether services are safe, caring, effective, responsive and well-led.

As of the end of February this year, the regulator found that 97% of providers were meeting the regulation around the service being ‘caring’ and 90% of them met the requirements of the ‘responsive’ section.

But findings also indicated that 43% of firms were not providing ‘safe’ care.

Concerns included:

  • Errors in prescribing
  • Lack of information sharing with a patient’s NHS GP
  • Unsatisfactory approaches to safeguarding children.

'Swift action must be taken'

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the findings were ‘very concerning’:

“New services will inevitably experience some teething problems, but when our patients' health is at risk urgent, swift action must be taken to comprehensively address these before the service is rolled out further.

"The inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics, for example, 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.”

The Royal College of GPs is currently developing guidance for those looking at alternatives to face-to-face GP consultations to ensure that people are aware of the ‘risks and benefits’ of emerging solutions.

Professor Steve Field, CQC Chief Inspector of General Practice, said online services have ‘huge potential’ for patients and the wider system and that, while innovation should be encouraged, it should never come ‘at the expense of quality’.

In January 2018, the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed that the CQC would be given the power to provide ratings (outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate) for online GP services, starting from April 2019.

Related content:

Online GP service providers to receive Care Quality Commission ratings

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