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Your guide to buying prescription drugs online in the UK

There’s no denying that the internet plays an integral part in our lives – from communicating on social media and discovering the latest news and trends in the world to searching for an individual health insurance plan, and much more.

But what’s truly impressive about the internet is that with just a few clicks you can easily obtain medical information, and even find medication to help treat ongoing health problems. But there’s a catch, with the convenience of acquiring medication online comes the importance of staying safe and secure.

In this guide by Pacific Prime UK, we provide you with tips on how to stay safe and secure when buying medicines online and look at the risks of doing so online.

Individual health insurance blog

Buying prescription drugs online

According to an article written by BBC Two, 75% of general practitioners (GPs) reported that patients who had suffered from the side effects of medication were the ones that purchased them on the internet. This finding raises concerns for people who use the internet to acquire medication for their needs.

There are many reasons why people choose the internet over the conventional visit to the pharmacy, such as convenience, better savings and cost, and also to avoid embarrassment. Although these reasons are acceptable, especially during a pandemic such as COVID-19, it is important to take great care when buying medicines online, particularly if the medicine is only available from a pharmacy.

The concern with buying medicines over the internet in the UK is that many websites selling medicines online originate from outside the UK and are not regulated by UK authorities. What this means for UK consumers is that buying prescription-only medicines from unauthorized sources significantly increases the risk of getting substandard or, in the worse case, fake medicines. As the buyer, you could risk being supplied with medicines that aren’t safe or are unsuitable for you to take.

What are the risks of buying medicines over the internet?

Below is a non-exhaustive list of specific risks of buying prescription-only medicines over the internet.

  • Medication could make your condition worse: Taking medicines that you have ordered online from an unregistered source could cause other medicines you are already taking to not work – or could even worsen an existing known or unknown health condition.
  • Unregulated medication: Due to an absence of checks and controls on the quality, safety, and effectiveness of medicines supplied online, there is a real risk of harm when not knowing what the drug contains. Counterfeit medicines may contain harmful ingredients, such as rat poison, boric acid, or even lead-based road paint. Additionally, the medication could contain too little or too much active ingredient – or no active ingredient at all.
  • Payment card cloning and identity theft: Falling victim to a scam, having your identity stolen, or your payment card cloned can be distressing. This is a risk that all online consumers come across regardless of buying medication or not. But having said that, making purchases for medication should be done securely.
  • Spyware, phishing, and other viruses from fraudulent websites: Buying medication through an unregistered website is a risk not worth taking. It could be a fraudulent website that is designed to cost you financially. According to Age UK, it’s estimated that GBP £670 million is lost every year by victims of the most common online scams.

How do you know if a website is safe to buy medicines from?

Firstly, it’s best to see your GP before buying medicines online as they know your medical history and can advise you whether the medicine would be suitable.

(Take note: If you need to register with a GP, you can read our guide on finding a GP in the UK to help you get started. This applies to locals and expats with residence permits.)

If you choose to buy medicines online, ensure that:

Other ways to stay safe and secure when buying medication online include:

  • Looking for the distance selling logo: When you are browsing a website for medication online, this should be the first thing you should look out for. It is a clickable logo that takes users to the online medicine seller registry, which displays the pharmacy’s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) company number and registered address. The MHRA regulates medicines, medical, and blood components for transfusion in the UK. By referring to the MHRA page, you can rest assured that the website is trusted and offers products and services that are in line with the UK’s regulations. As an example, see Lloyds Pharmacy’s credentials and registered details.

(Take note: Online auction sites or buy-and-sell sites are not usually licensed to sell medication. If the owner of the website is trying to sell prescription medication and is not a pharmacist they are breaking the law.)

  • Ensure the website is secure: It is important to check that the website is secure by looking for the padlock symbol in the address bar. This means any personal information like your name, address, bank account details, and so forth, will be encrypted.
  • Be cautious during the process of obtaining medication online: With a registered online pharmacy, it is standard for the system to ask for a valid prescription to be sent from your GP to them before dispensing your medication. Alternatively, an in-house doctor at the pharmacy should go through a consultation process to provide you with a prescription before dispensing. If you receive neither a request nor a consultation, then chances are the online pharmacy shouldn’t be trusted and avoided. Always check the credibility and legitimacy of online pharmacy websites. Ensure they are registered and display the right features to show they are registered.

Where to buy online medication in the UK

For a full list of pharmacies, you can head to the NHS website for internet pharmacies. From there, you can search and call up the pharmacy to speak to a pharmacist or general manager. They can help guide you on how to safely and securely access their products and services via their website.

Learn more from our blogs page

At Pacific Prime UK, we cover a range of topics related to health, such as mental wellbeing, employee health benefits, the UK healthcare system, and more.

Our recently released 2019-2020 State of Health Insurance report can also provide you with valuable insights and analysis from our team of in-house health insurance experts and leading global insurance partners.

Contact our advisors today to learn more about what we do as a health broker and discover the different types of plans available, such as maternity insurance, travel insurance, and more.

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