A third of pharmacies give 'unsuitable and potentially unsafe' advice, survey finds

One in three pharmacies is giving out inadequate and potentially dangerous advice to customers, says a survey.

In some cases, unqualified staff are handing over powerful drugs without making checks with the pharmacist.

And some online pharmacies are apparently breaking the law by selling more painkillers than the limit per customer.


Concern: Independent pharmacies give incorrect advice at 48 per cent of visits, a survey by Which? suggests

The claims were made by Which? after a survey of 101 pharmacies, including independent outlets and chains.

Independent pharmacies fared particularly poorly, giving unsatisfactory advice on 48 per cent of visits, compared with 26 per cent for the biggest chains and supermarkets.

Labour is planning to shift more responsibility from GPs to pharmacies, allowing them to have consulting rooms, deal with minor complaints and authorise repeat prescriptions.

Which? said that the introduction of new services may mean that the pharmacist is often away from the counter, leaving other staff in charge.

A panel of experts looked at how pharmacies dealt with three scenarios - a patient reporting traveller's diarrhoea, one asking for the migraine drug Imigran and a third asking for emergency contraception.

Some 13 out of 35 offered 'unsatisfactory' advice on Imigran, which was available only on prescription until recently.

The powerful drug was administered by staff without the required reference to the pharmacist or vital questions on the customer's health.

Persistent traveller's diarrhoea can be a sign of a serious infection. But in many cases staff failed to refer the patient to a pharmacist or their doctor.

Women asking for emergency contraception should, ideally, be offered confidential advice as well as information on sexually transmitted infections.

But two women approaching pharmacies at Sainsbury's and Boots were questioned at the counter in earshot of other customers. In some cases, no advice was offered on infections.

Which? also looked at the operation of online pharmacies. One firm, Asset Chemist, agreed to supply 160 tablets of Solpadeine Plus, a powerful paracetamol-based painkiller.

Such drugs should be sold in a maximum of 64 tablets at a time, because they are considered an overdose risk. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is investigating the case.

Which? editor Neil Fowle said: 'People are increasingly turning to pharmacies for the sort of advice they might have gone to their GP for in the past, but we're concerned that in some cases they're getting advice that is unsuitable and potentially unsafe.'

He said it was vital that training improves.

A spokesman for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain said: 'It is clear that there are some areas that require improvement and we are working with the profession to address these.

'It is, however, important to put the research in context - the study looked at a small sample size representing less than one per cent of all pharmacies.'


■  At the moment, pharmacies are authorised to carry out basic medical examinations or tests such as checking blood glucose and blood pressure, and monitoring diabetes

■  They can also give advice and treatment for minor ailments that will get better in their own time, such as hay fever, coughs, sore throats and indigestion

■  They can also give stop-smoking advice such as holding counselling sessions

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