Online pharmacies selling antibiotics without a prescription are neglecting patients’ best interests and fuelling drug resistance, a study from Imperial College London has found.

It is thought that efforts by health professionals to cut down unnecessary antibiotics combined with an increase in internet use could lead to even more cases of antibiotics being bought online by patients.

The Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy published to study which found that almost half of online-only pharmacies could be selling antibiotics illegally, with 80% letting patients choose their own doses.

Lead author, Dr Sara Boyd said the findings are a ‘real concern’ in terms of patient safety and antibiotic resistance.

The researchers analysed 20 pharmacies that UK residents can buy medicine from online, and found three quarters are not registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the General Pharmaceutical Council, as required by law.

And less than a third of the websites asked customers to complete a health questionnaire prior to dispensing drugs, it was found.

Prescriptions for antibiotics reduced by 2.6m in general practice in 2016 and it is feared that online pharmacies could reverse that trend.

The study concluded that ‘improved education, legislation, regulation and new best practice stewardship guidelines are urgently needed for online antibiotic suppliers.’

'Serious side-effects'

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has spoken out against the selling of the medications online.

RPS president Martin Astbury said: 'We cannot support access to antibiotics through a web form until the standards for prescribing by private providers reflect the standard of face-to-face consultations in the NHS.

'Those involved in supplying medicines online should ensure their processes are as robust as possible.'

'Unnecessary antibiotic use can result in serious side effects in individuals and has a major impact on wider public health by increasing antibiotic resistance.'

'Incredibly concerning'

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP chair said: ‘It’s incredibly concerning to hear that antibiotics are so readily available to patients via some online pharmacies without a prescription.

'That this study has found this practice to be so widespread is extremely worrying, and it’s important that it has been highlighted, so that it can be tackled robustly in the best interests of our patients’ safety and global health in general.’