Could Pharmacy2U face disciplinary action for selling patient data?
As a completely reputable and trusted business that places the customer’s needs at the forefront of its practices, Medical Specialists® Pharmacy views the act of passing on patient details to third parties absolutely preposterous and something they would never engage in. It is anybody’s guess where the details will end up or what certain individuals or organisations would plan to do with such data…Perhaps bombard unsuspecting victims with spam letters or emails, or conduct more sinister and illegal operations. Unfortunately, a national newspaper report has uncovered quite shocking practices taking place at one of the country’s biggest online pharmacies, Pharmacy2U, who currently boast an annual turnover estimated at £17 million. However, it now remains to be seen exactly how much of an impact the new revelations will have on this massive figure. According to the Daily Mail website, undercover reporters were able to pay just 19p per record for the privilege of being in possession of strictly private medical details relating to the vulnerable and sick. This included the names of various patients with health problems such as arthritis, diabetes and hypertension. The Daily Mail gave a chilling warning: “Some of this information on sick and disabled people is ending up in the hands of conmen and criminals who prey on the most vulnerable. Now it can be revealed that details of NHS patients who have bought prescriptions online are also being offered for sale.” Furthermore, the Daily Mail’s article claims that Pharmacy2U sold the names and addresses of those patients that have used their online doctor consultation service to Alchemy Direct Media, obviously with no consent from patients as the majority of patients that obtain medicinal products online, do so primarily for a privacy aspect. The Mail story also states there is also nothing in the Pharmacy2U terms and conditions that mentions anything about patient information being sent to a third party. Unfortunately, almost all online pharmacies on the web will have no in-house Doctors, thus are forced to transfer patient’s personal medical details to a third party Doctor, unless the patient actually has a private prescription from their own GP. This is where Medical Specialists® Pharmacy is different from the rest. The pharmacy is the first ‘One Stop Pharmacy and Doctors’ in the UK, where patients can rest assure they are using a safe website and dealing with a trusted pharmacy that does not ever pass on medical details to any third party, patients will only receive branded medication (e.g. Xenical for weight loss ) sent to them within just 24 hours. So what now for Pharmacy2U? The online pharmacy could now have its reputation in tatters and risks losing the confidence of its patients, who could understandably decide to look elsewhere as a result of the Daily Mail exposé. The Daily Mail state that Pharmacy2U have sold the names and addresses of ‘up to 5,000’ patients on three separate occasions, but would not disclose the amounts they had received for doing this, adding they had since ceased selling confidential information and that no medical information had been given to other parties. Despite this, Andy Burnham, Labour’s health spokesman, hit out at Pharmacy2U’s conduct, blasting: “This is an extremely serious matter. The Government must initiate an inquiry and call in the police to see if a crime has been committed. Pharmacy2U should immediately be suspended as an approved distributor. “Jeremy Hunt has failed in his primary duty to protect vulnerable patients. He must make an urgent statement to set out how widespread this practice is, whether there have been other breaches and what action is being taken against Pharmacy2U.” A day after the Pharmacy2U scandal broke last week, The Daily Mail then stated that one of the pioneers behind the whole farce was revealed to be Andy Hornby, the disgraced banker in charge of HBOS during the infamous 2008 collapse. Hornby, a principle shareholder in the Leeds-based online pharmacy, has faced fierce vitriol for financially benefitting from the sale of patient’s personal information and faced calls for him to immediately resign from his position of non-executive chairman of Pharmacy2U. Some of the victims to have had their data unknowingly sold to third parties are some of the most vulnerable - patients either too ill to get to their local surgery or the disabled. “If this is true, then this is an appalling act by a registered pharmacy I believe”, said David Bailey, Managing Director of Medical Specialists Pharmacy. He went on to say, “Under the Terms and Conditions of our website, we clearly state in our Privacy Statement: Any information obtained via the web site, is privately and confidentially held by Medical Specialists Company Ltd., and is not passed on to any third party for promotional or financial gain, except to obtain payment for orders received.” Perhaps now, all online pharmacies will have to act like Medical Specialists® and have a clear code of practice where the Terms and Conditions are clearly set out for the patients benefit and protection.