In an undercover investigation carried out by Which?, three in 10 pharmacies did not follow safety guidelines when making sales of OTC pain medicines.

The magazine sent undercover researchers into Boots, Tesco, LloydsPharmacy, Morrisons and Asda, as well as some independent pharmacies, with a significant proportion of visits to each judged as ‘poor’.

The investigation will appear in the March issue of the consumer magazine.

In one scenario, researchers asked for Sudafed Sinus Pressure & Pain as well as ibuprofen tablets. In a third of these visits, pharmacy staff gave no warnings on the risk of combining the two products, both of which contain ibuprofen. Only half were asked if they were taking any other medication and only a quarter were asked if they had had the medication before.

The second scenario involved requests for four 16-tablet packets of regular paracetamol at pharmacies, supermarkets and discount stores such as Poundland (MHRA guidelines advise selling no more than two packs per transaction). In 11 out of 42 visits, the Which? researchers were able to buy more than the recommended amount without pharmacy staff querying this.

Which? view

Which? Magazine editor Ben Clissitt said: “People will be alarmed that some pharmacists are missing out on asking their customers the basics, particularly in light of recent NHS advice to use pharmacies as the first point of call for minor illnesses.”

Clissitt advised consumers to be medicines-aware: “Our advice would be to read the patient information leaflet on any medication you take and be proactive when seeking out your pharmacist’s advice by asking key questions, especially if you are taking more than one medication.”

GPhC response

General Pharmaceutical Council chief executive Duncan Rudkin said: “This report serves as an important reminder to pharmacy professionals that one of the best ways to ensure the health and safety of patients, particularly in regard to over the counter medicines, is to ask questions through an open and helpful discussion.

“While the report highlights that improvements need to be made across some of the interactions, there are also welcome examples of pharmacy professionals working effectively to support the patients in their care. 

“Given this variation we would remind all pharmacy owners and pharmacy professionals to make sure that they have all the necessary procedures and training in place for all staff to allow for effective patient care. We know that pharmacies are increasingly playing more of a role in managing the health of patients, and particularly in busy periods, adhering to these procedures will become ever more important.”

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