Millions of people in the UK could be putting their health at risk because they do not know how to check the safety of medicines they bought online, suggest findings of a new survey.

The survey – by the Independent Pharmacy and involving more than 2,000 people – found that while 28 million said they would buy a medicine online, the vast majority (83%) did not know how to check the legitimacy of the seller or the medicine. This figure rose to more than 94% for the over 55s age group.

Those in the 25-34 year-olds group were most likely to be aware of how to check whether a site (54%) and the medicine it sells (53%) is safe and legitimate, while 14% of 18-24 year-olds said they did not know how to check if their medicine is legitimate, compared to 53% of 25-34 year-olds.

Also of concern, the findings show that over half (52%) of the UK population is unaware that not all UK online pharmacies are regulated to the same extent as those on the high street.

“Unless the millions of people that buy medicine online know how to spot a legitimate online pharmacy and check medicine authenticity, they could be putting their health at risk,” warned Scott McDougall (MPharm), co-founder and registered manager of The Independent Pharmacy.

“Not only is there a need to provide further education on how to identify a safe online pharmacy, but it’s also important to keep an open dialogue with healthcare professionals across the industry about the standards of prescribing sites and medicines to ensure a collaborative future between online and offline providers and encourage safer patient care,” added Dr Don Grant, clinical lead at the group.