A Canadian online pharmacies' lobby has announced that many of its members plan on moving their business to the UK if tough legislation planned by the federal Canadian government outlaws co-signing of medication by doctors without the patients being present.
David MacKay, head of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA), told the Financial Times that its members, which number around 40, plan to relocate "mostly in Great Britain". This would mean British doctors may be responsible for reviewing orders for drugs and co-signing them before they are despatched to the US.
Dr Peter Fellows, head of the GPC Prescribing Committee at the British Medical Association, said that the BMA would not support the practice of co-signing prescriptions. "It would be very unwise indeed for doctors to do this," he told E-Health Insider.
The practice of prescribing medication without the patient being present is "unethical", said Dr Fellows, and that doctors were obliged to review each patient case in person before signing off medication. Currently, there is no UK legislation to prevent doctors from co-signing prescriptions in patients' absence, he said.
The Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) represents websites that sell medication online, primarily to the US market. Its stated aim is to "to represent and support the ethical and professional practice of International Pharmacy, and to ensure the highest standards of practice are carried out by its members."
Buying medication online from Canada has been popular among US citizens, with cost savings of up to 29% despite the weak US dollar, according to pharmacychecker.com. As a result, some drugs companies have been attempting to cap drug supplies to Canada. Many Canadian pharmacy websites in the CIPA are directly marketed towards Americans.
A price control agreement exists between the federal Canadian government and most international pharmaceutical companies. "We built that price regime for the benefit of Canadians, not Americans," Ken Polk, spokesperson for the Canadian health minister, told the FT. However, MacKay said that the UK may prove to be a good place for CIPA members to relocate as "you might even get a better deal with the European Union".
Dr Fellows told EHI that with technology developing so fast, the UK government may need to look at regulation of internet pharmacies, should Canadian pharmacy websites aimed at the US move here: "I feel the Canadians are probably going towards the right route. It's something we do need to think about and legislate against."
E-Health Insider contacted the CIPA's head office in Winnipeg, Manitoba for further comment and clarification but had not received a reply by press time.
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