Pharmacies get test of own medicinePharmacy staff giving poor advice, Which? reveals

25 September 2008

Pharmacist and customer

It’s important that you can trust your pharmacist

Unsuitable and potentially dangerous advice is being given by poorly-trained staff in some pharmacies, according to an undercover investigation by Which?

Which? investigators visited 101 pharmacies across the UK and got unsatisfactory advice on a third of visits, according to an expert panel. Independent pharmacies fared particularly poorly, giving unsatisfactory advice on around half of visits.

Imigran Recovery

Sales of the migraine drug Imigran Recovery, which used to be available only with a prescription from a GP, should be overseen by a pharmacist, and only take place after vital questions have been asked. Which? found that in 40% of cases sales assistants did not even alert the pharmacist, and one in five sold it without a single question.

Which? magazine editor Neil Fowler says: '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.'

For travellers' diarrhoea, investigators were four times more likely to get unsatisfactory advice from sales assistants than from pharmacists.

But some aspects, such as offering a private area to discuss sensitive issues, had improved since Which? last investigated pharmacies in 2004.

Painkillers

Which? also checked sales at four online chemists and was shocked to find that one – Asset Chemist – sold one researcher an illegal quantity of paracetamol-based painkillers.The case will be investigated by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which has also pledged to support improvements in the industry by mystery shopping and training. 

'With plans to expand the remit of pharmacists further, even allowing them to leave sales assistants in charge for periods of time, it’s vital that training improves and that meaningful action is taken against those that fail to deliver, so that consumers can trust the advice they receive.'

See the Which? Advice guide to Pharmacists for the full results of the investigation, advice on getting the best from your local chemist and the lowdown on buying medicines online.

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