Private slimming clinics have been found providing patients with unlicensed and inappropriate weight loss drugs, health inspectors have said.
Some independent practices in England prescribed unlicensed medicines and ones not recommended by health officials without informing the people taking them, according to a new Care Quality Commission (CQC) report.
Age checks were also not carried out in some slimming clinics, meaning services could not be sure patients were over the age of 18 before beginning treatment.
The CQC report analysed a sample of first and follow-up inspection reports to assess the care provided by private GPs, travel, slimming, circumcision and allergy clinics.
Around 42% of 38 private slimming clinics were found not to be providing safe care on their first inspection, and almost a quarter (24%) were not meeting regulations for effective care.
The prescription of drugs was described by the report as an “area of concern”, with some clinicians not always prescribing appropriately.
Patients at several private slimming clinics were treated with medicines without a strong evidence base, for example those not recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) or the Royal College of Physicians.
At “a number of services” inspected, patients were not told the medicine they were given was unlicensed, despite laws which require information to be given to people on the licence status and any possible side-effects.
Inspectors also found cases where appetite suppressants were prescribed to patients with a BMI lower than that suggested, and to people with high blood pressure outside national guidance.
On another occasion, a slimming clinic gave a patient medicine without informing their GP, despite the fact they had a complex long-term medical condition.
Meanwhile, just under half (48%) of 66 independent consulting doctor services were found not to be providing safe care on their first inspection, although 10 out of 14 had improved on re-inspection, the report found.
Many providers had also addressed concerns about safe prescribing on re-inspection, though this was not always the case, the CQC said.
Ursula Gallagher, deputy chief inspector of general practice and lead for independent provider, said: “Too often we saw poor prescribing practice and providers with a limited awareness of their responsibilities – not just to their patients but to the wider healthcare system.
“I hope this report will help providers and others to identify what they need to do and where they might focus their efforts.
“Everyone providing these types of services has a legal responsibility to offer safe, high-quality care that not only meets the needs of the people using it, but also meets the legal requirements that exist to protect patients.
“Where this isn’t the case and we see risks to patient safety, we will not, and have not, hesitated to stop providers from operating.”
There were 962 services categorised as active independent consulting doctors and 57 slimming clinics as of October 2018.
Inspections of independent doctors were carried out between January 2017 and October 2018, and between January 2017 and March 2018 for slimming clinics.