Botox prescriptions over phone or internet to be banned

By Guy Lynn
BBC News, London

  • Published
Dr Mark Harrison
Image caption,
Dr Harrison said he had performed more than 50,000 remote consultations since 2005

Doctors will be banned from prescribing anti-ageing drugs like Botox on the phone or internet if they have not seen their patients face to face, the BBC has learned.

It comes after the BBC went undercover to investigate the operations of one of the UK's largest purchasers of the anti-wrinkle drug.

Botox is a potentially dangerous medicine and can normally only be prescribed by a doctor.

The General Medical Council (GMC) says new rules will be published later this week to stop doctors remotely prescribing injectable cosmetic medicines such as Botox.

"There are good reasons why these are prescription-only medicines and we believe doctors should assess any patient in person before issuing a prescription of this kind," said Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC.

Secretly recorded

Nurses who have independent prescribing qualification are able to prescribe any drug, including Botox, without the involvement of a doctor.

And nurses without this qualification are legally allowed to inject the drug under a doctor's supervision, but risk being struck off for doing this remotely, unless in an emergency.

Dr Mark Harrison, the director of Harley Aesthetics, has built up a network of hundreds of nurses who phone him on his mobile, from wherever they are in the UK, to receive authorisation to inject patients immediately with Botox, and they pay Dr Harrison £30 for each conversation.

After concerns were raised to the BBC, an undercover researcher secretly recorded one of Dr Harrison's training days and joined his team of nurses.

Dr Harrison was secretly recorded explaining how prescriptions for Botox could be obtained in the names of friends and family and the stock of drugs could be used on walk-in patients.

'Little bit naughty'

If nurses were unable to reach him on his mobile at any time when they had a patient expecting immediate treatment, he encouraged them to inject their patients anyway and he would phone the patient later.

"If you can't get a signal, what you might do is do the treatment and then you ring through with the details and the phone number and we guarantee we'll always ring the client after the event," Dr Harrison said in the secret recording.

"That may be after the event, which is a little bit naughty," said Dr Harrison.

Image caption,
Botox is a potentially dangerous medicine and can normally only be prescribed by a doctor

Later, the BBC phoned him to see if this would really happen, claiming a new patient had already been injected.

Dr Harrison left a message on the voicemail of the "patient" and later sent a prescription.

However, senior doctors have said this amounts to a potential safety risk and would mean the nurse breaking the law by injecting Botox without a prescription.

In a statement, Dr Harrison said he had performed more than 50,000 remote consultations since 2005, with no adverse affects on patient health.

He said the use of prescriptions in one person's name for the treatment of others was "common, almost universal practice throughout the aesthetics industry" and had "no consequence for patient safety."

He said that the practice of a doctor phoning a patient after an injection "would never be encouraged and would never be acceptable for a new patient".

He added: "The decision to treat has been taken by the nurse and the doctor informed retrospectively."

Dr Harrison went on: "I can confirm that I take my professional and moral obligations to both the patients who have treatments and the nurses who use the service extremely seriously."

Sally Taber, director of the Independent Healthcare Advisory Service and the organisation Treatments You Can Trust, said: "This is wrong, it's breaking the law and it's not acceptable."

Leading cosmetic surgeon and former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, Dr Nigel Mercer, said he was shocked by the BBC's findings.

"This is a wake-up call. It's not an appropriate way for providing a medical service."

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