Private slimming clinics are doling out appetite suppressants to patients without significant weight problems, and failing to stop teenagers getting hold of them, a watchdog has warned.
Inspections by the Care Quality Commission found almost half of such clinics failing to provide safe care, with medics supplying dangerous drugs in high quantities.
The regulator also highlighted widespread risks in other services run by private doctors accused of prescribing too many drugs, such as antibiotics and potentially addictive painkillers.
The inspections found that 32 of 66 independent consulting doctors and 16 of 38 slimming clinics were not providing safe care.
Appetite suppressant drugs were being prescribed to patients with a body mass index lower than that recommended, and to patients whose health meant they should never have been given the drugs.
Some medications were being prescribed although they were unlicensed and not recommended on the NHS.
Even when alarming side-effects such as breathlessness were spotted, patients were not referred for medical help, the inspections found.
Some clinics which are supposed to only provide services to adults were found to be failing to carry out any identity checks to check whether patients were over 18.
Patients were put on diets without any target weight, with drugs continuing to be prescribed below the national guidance thresholds of body mass index (BMI) which says they should only be prescribed to those who are obese.
CQC said that of services which were re-inspected, most were found to have improved.
Among those which had not, one was closed down.
The visits to other private medical clinics found widespread safety risks, including failures to store medicines properly and to prevent infections.
Doctors were found to be inappropriately prescribing drugs, increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance, and addiction.
And one circumcision clinic was found to be doling out antibiotics just in case of problems, because it was only open one day a week.
Ursula Gallagher, deputy chief Inspector of general practice and lead for independent providers 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.”
“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.”