Online doctor to face two GMC inquiries

Severin Carrell
Sunday 21 March 2004 01:00

A doctor who pioneered the sale of impotence, slimming and anti-balding pills over the internet faces inquiries by medical regulators.

Dr Julian Eden came to fame four years ago as the first British GP to set up a private "online clinic" to prescribe drugs such as Viagra over the Web. But, amid growing concern about the unregulated sales of medicines over the Web, the General Medical Council has now launched two probes into Dr Eden's small private practice.

If it finds he has a case to answer, it could then start an investigation into his conduct, including his involvement with websites selling prescription-only medicines.

Dr Eden runs his online clinic, called e-med, from a small office at St John's and St Elizabeth's private hospital in north-west London. The £740-a-night hospital is best known for its prenatal clinics, which have been used by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Stella McCartney and Kate Moss.

Dr Eden has carved out a career as a media pundit, deep-sea diving medicine expert and adviser to complementary medicine websites. Until October last year, he wrote a "Flying Doctor" column for The Guardian's weekly travel section. Before then, he answered letters from Independent on Sunday readers about health issues on holiday.

The GMC, which oversees the behaviour of all British doctors, started one inquiry after Dr Eden's clinic approved an application made by the IoS to buy impotence drugs in about two minutes. At the time, Dr Eden was in Egypt on business.

The GP insisted he had personally read and approved our 26-question medical questionnaire and application form in his hotel room within seconds of it being submitted, and denied any wrong-doing.

"I personally considered the online form that you say that you completed because I happened to be online when you submitted your form, hence my fast response," he said.

However, the GMC said it was concerned by the case. Dr Eden already faces questions by the GMC over at least one separate, earlier complaint about his conduct. In a statement, the GMC said: "We are aware of concerns about Dr Eden and are currently considering what action, if any, would be appropriate."

Dr Eden responded: "For the avoidance of doubt, I have never been the subject of a public inquiry by the professional conduct committee of the GMC."

Anxiety about "online pharmacies" selling potentially dangerous medicines has surged in recent months. In January, the IoS exposed one British-run website that sold fake Viagra and later an illegal imitation, Kamagra.

Three weeks ago, the Consumers' Association, the consumer rights watchdog, raised fresh concerns. Reporters on Health Which? bought prescription-only anti-depressants and slimming pills from several UK-based websites with, it claimed, "little or no diagnosis". Some medicines were posted from Turkey, Spain or Vanuatu in the Pacific.

Internet pharmacies are allowed to sell prescription-only drugs, such as Viagra or the anti-balding treatment Propecia, only if a GP properly assesses each application in person and fills out a full prescription for the drug. These regulations are now being strictly policed by the GMC and the official watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which has already taken action against several doctors and internet pharmacies - including one site that employs Dr Eden.

Earlier this month, the IoS was able to get almost instant approval when it tried to buy erectile dysfunction drugs from another site, uk-clinic., which also uses Dr Eden to fill out all its prescriptions.

An email confirming that the IoS could buy impotence drugs arrived from uk-clinic within two minutes of the website's online application form being submitted.

George McAndrew, the owner of uk-clinic, said all his website's drug sales had to be personally approved by Dr Eden. He strenuously denied that this approval system was automated but was unable to explain how Dr Eden had been able to process the IoS application so quickly.

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