Distance selling pharmacies

Published on: 10th July 2013 | Updated on: 6th June 2024

The National Health Service (Pharmaceutical and Local Pharmaceutical Services) Regulations 2013 detail a number of conditions for distance selling pharmacies (DSPs) in addition to the regulations governing all pharmacies.

As compliance with the conditions is a pre-requisite for all DSPs to remain on the pharmaceutical list, breach of the conditions could lead to removal from the Pharmaceutical List by NHS England.

Click on a heading below for more information. 


The following is a guide to the regulations, available at legislation.gov.uk. Regulations 25 and 64 specifically apply to DSPs.

A DSP must not provide Essential services to a person who is present at the pharmacy, or in the vicinity of it. In addition, the pharmacy’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) must provide for the Essential services to be provided safely and effectively without face-to-face contact with any member of staff on the premises. NHS England could ask for sight of the SOPs when considering an application to satisfy itself that the conditions will be met.
A DSP receives a prescription via post and dispenses it the next day, sending it via courier. The pharmacist telephones the patient to counsel the patient on the medicine’s correct use. This arrangement satisfies the conditions as no face-to-face contact has taken place on the pharmacy’s premises.

A DSP returns a prescription to the patient saying that because it orders a Controlled Drug, the pharmacy will not be able to dispense it. In this case, the pharmacy is in breach of the Terms of Service which requires all pharmacies to dispense any drug that is ordered, ‘with reasonable promptness’. NHS England could issue a breach notice, could order a withholding of remuneration, and could in some circumstances remove the pharmacy from the pharmaceutical list.

A DSP may provide Advanced and Enhanced services on the premises, as long as any Essential service which forms part of the Advanced or Enhanced service is not provided to persons present at the premises.
A DSP receives a prescription and dispenses it the next day, sending it via post with a consent form and explanatory leaflet about the New Medicine Service (NMS), inviting the patient to contact the pharmacy. The patient lives locally and so makes arrangements to visit the pharmacy, to complete the NMS. The pharmacy would need to be very careful not to provide or offer to provide any of the Essential services whilst the patient is at the pharmacy. The patient brings some unwanted medicine back to the pharmacy at the same time as attending for the NMS consultation. The pharmacy is therefore in a dilemma, as accepting the waste at the pharmacy would breach the conditions.

The pharmacy’s procedures and SOPs must allow for the uninterrupted provision of Essential services during the opening hours of the pharmacy to anyone in England who requests the service. NHS England could ask for sight of the SOPs, during the application process, to ensure that adequate arrangements have been made to satisfy this condition.
A DSP provides NHS England with an SOP detailing how the pharmacy will receive prescriptions from a drop box in the local GP’s practice, and will have an advice hotline which will operate between 5-6pm during the week. NHS England refuses the application on the grounds that only patients who are local to the GP practice will be able to send prescriptions, and the advice hotline (and so the Dispensing, Signposting and Support for Self Care Essential services) will only operate for a proportion of the pharmacy’s core hours.

Nothing in any written or oral communication such as a practice leaflet or any publicity can suggest, either expressly or impliedly, that services will only be available to persons in particular areas of England, or only particular categories of patients will (or will not) be provided for.
A DSP publishes a leaflet which states ‘Our delivery vans are available within a 25 mile radius. We can arrange for delivery by post outside this area, but cold chain products, such as insulin cannot be sent this way’. The pharmacy is likely to be found in breach of the conditions, as patients with diabetes requiring insulin who live outside the area would be unable to obtain their prescriptions from the pharmacy.

Terms of Service – Consultation rooms and remote consultations

On 20th October 2020, NHS regulations were laid to introduce changes to the Terms of Service for contractors, which included changes to consultation rooms and remote consultations. For distance selling pharmacies, this means:

  • they must ensure that there are arrangements in place at the pharmacy which enable staff and patients to communicate confidentially by telephone or another live audio link and a live video link; and
  • can choose to install a consultation room at their pharmacy to allow the provision of Enhanced and Advanced services on the premises, but this is not a requirement of the Terms of Service.

Read more about the consultation rooms and remote consultations Terms of Service

Terms of Service – Healthy living pharmacies

On 20th October 2020, NHS regulations were laid to introduce changes to the Terms of Service for contractors, which included from 1st January 2021, all pharmacies had to meet the Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) requirements which are detailed in the NHS England regulations guidance.

The majority of the requirements are the same for ‘bricks and mortar’ pharmacies and DSPs; however, there are a few different requirements and suggested evidence that should be collated. For example, DSPs must have a website for patients and the public accessing their services to use, which must have an interactive page that is clearly promoted when they first access the website. This page must provide access to a reasonable range of up-to-date materials that promote healthy lifestyles, by addressing a reasonable range of health issues. Further information can be found in the NHS England regulations guidance.

Read more about the HLP Terms of Service


Q. Is a DSP eligible for the Pharmacy Access Scheme?
No. DSPs (e.g. internet pharmacies) are not included in the scheme; this is because the scheme is intended to protect physical access to bricks and mortar pharmacies.

Q. Can a DSP provide an Advanced service?
A DSP may provide an Advanced service such as the Flu Vaccination Service on the pharmacy premises, as long as any Essential service is not provided to persons present at the premises.

For example, if the patient presents an NHS prescription to be dispensed – this is an Essential service. Therefore, the pharmacy is unable to provide this service at the premises.

Q. Can a DSP provide locally commissioned services?
Technically, yes. The Regulations prohibit DSPs from offering to provide Essential services to persons face to face at (which includes in the vicinity of) the pharmacy premises. Therefore, this would not apply to services commissioned locally.

Q. The local authority has decided not to commission my DSP to provide the locally commissioned smoking cessation service. Can I challenge this decision?
The decision of whether to commission or not is one for the local authority. If a pharmacy contractor wished to challenge a decision, then they should be encouraged to seek independent legal advice as procurement law is a complex specialist field outside of the remit of Community Pharmacy England.

Q. Does the European Regulation to inform customers about the existence of an online dispute resolution platform if they have a problem with their online purchase apply to me?
In February 2016, new European Regulations came into effect requiring traders engaged in online sales or services contracts to inform consumers about the existence of the online dispute resolution platform and the possibility of using that platform to resolve disputes.

No. These Regulations do not currently apply to “health care services” which are health services provided by health professionals to patients to assess, maintain or restore their state of health, including the prescription, dispensation and provision of medicinal products and medical devices (see Part (a) of Article 3 of Directive 2011/24/EU).  A “Health professional” includes a pharmacist.

Q. The regulations state that DSPs are to provide Essential services ‘without face to face contact’ between the contractor or their staff and the patient. Can a DSP use a delivery driver to collect prescriptions and deliver medicine to patients?
The prohibition on face-to-face contact has been in place since 2005 and continues under the new regulations. The prohibition on face-to-face contact only covers the provision of Essential NHS pharmaceutical services, at the pharmacy premises. This means that a delivery driver employed by the contractor could (a) collect a prescription from the GP practice; and (b) deliver the dispensed items to the patient at their home.

Q. Can a DSP charge for delivery of prescriptions?
Under the National Health Service 2006 (Part 1 1(3)), all NHS services must be provided free of charge except where a charge has been expressly mandated by legislation. As no legislation has been passed that would allow this, it would be against the Act to request payment for the delivery of a prescription. Bricks and mortar pharmacies are able to charge for delivery as part of a private service (except where the item is a Part IXA specified appliance).

Q. Do I need to display the EU common logo in my DSP?
No. From 1st January 2021, anyone (including traditional “bricks and mortar” pharmacies with an online presence) who sells human medicines online in Great Britain is no longer required to display the EU common logo (also known as the Distance Selling Logo) on every page of their website offering to sell human medicines. For Great Britain the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will be considering an alternative to the use of the Distance Selling Logo in the future. The MHRA is no longer processing new applications for the Distance Selling Logo in Great Britain. The MHRA will continue to disrupt illegitimate online retailers through enforcement activity.

Q. What is the GPhC voluntary internet logo scheme?
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) operates a voluntary internet pharmacy logo scheme to provide reassurance to patients and the public that they are purchasing medicines online from registered pharmacies who have to meet GPhC standards. If you would like to apply to use the GPhC voluntary internet pharmacy logo, more information is available on the GPhC website .

Related resources

Community Pharmacy England Briefing 023/15: Providing pharmacy services at a distance (April 2015)
The General Pharmaceutical Council has issued guidance for registered pharmacies providing pharmacy services at a distance. This will apply to most community pharmacies, both distance selling and bricks and mortar, as many now provide collection and delivery of prescriptions as part of their dispensing process. This briefing summarises some of the key aspects of the guidance and how contractors can ensure they are following them.


For more information on this topic please email comms.team@cpe.org.uk

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