“Not my problem mate”

The old Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain laboured for years under a serious conflict of interest. It supported pharmacists in their role as high street shopkeepers (inter alia), and at the same time purported to regulate them as health care professionals.  So it split into two bodies, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the General Pharmaceutical Council (RPhC). A nice clean break surely? Well no, and here is why.

I have previously mentioned the strange situation of registered pharmacists who work as quacks. I am not getting anywhere with the GPhC, but I did learn something about the RPS. The GPhC had at my request referred my complaint to the MHRA, because (as suggested by a colleague) the pharmacist might have been selling unregistered homeopathic products (I can’t bring myself to call them medicines). Interestingly, while the MHRA said there was no case to answer, they did suggest I take up the matter with the RPS. Specifically they referred to the RPS code of ethics which says:

The RPS recognises that homeopathic products can be obtained from pharmacies and from other unregulated outlets where patients can make selfselection purchases. In such cases there would be no requirement for a pharmacist to provide additional information to the patient.

However, if a patient approaches a pharmacist for advice on homeopathy, the pharmacist should be able to advise on the lack of evidence on the efficacy of homeopathic products, discuss the formulation and composition of the product, and provide other pertinent advice. Importantly, pharmacists will be in a position to discuss healthcare options and be able to identify any more serious underlying medical conditions and, if required, refer the patient to another healthcare professional. Pharmacists should also ensure that patients do not stop taking their prescribed medication if they take a homeopathic product.

So to paraphrase, if a customer takes a homeopathic product off the shelf and presents it to the pharmacist for payment, there is no obligation for the pharmacist to advise about whether it works or not. But if the customer asks for advice, the pharmacist must state that there is no evidence that it works.  I suppose that as they are allowed to sell a huge range of largely ineffective products, they won’t be obliged to take the initiative by warning customers that they are wasting their money.

However, the case of pharmacists such as Christine Glover is quite different. She is actively promoting and selling homeopathic products, and is taking the initiative by telling her patients that they are effective. Clearly she has patients who believe this, judging by the testimonials she has published (scroll down). She can’t possibly be in compliance with the RPS code of ethics – and she was their president not long ago!

I have asked the GPhC to explain how their refusal to act aligns with the RPS code, and got this response:

I have noted your comments and I would suggest that you ask the RPS to comment on the matter.

Well I did, and have yet to get a response. OK they are all probably on Christmas leave, but rest assured I am not going to let this lie. So far, all that seems to have emerged from the GPhC/RPS split is to create the opportunity to pass the buck between them.

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4 Responses

  1. Did you ever come across the saga about five years ago involving the Australian supplement company Blackmores and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (which is a trade association)? Has some interesting parallels.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-10-06/controversial-blackmores-pharmacy-deal-withdrawn/3317960?pfmredir=sm

  2. No I didn’t, and thanks. That seems like a more blatant scam. In the UK the regulators are more adept at using weasel words.

  3. The GPhC aren’t the only statutory regulator that has this problem. The GPhC do have have Standards of conduct, ethics and performance.

    • Absolutely. But they, like eg the GCC, the GOC, and the GMC, refuse to apply effectively the principle of evidence based clinical practice. None of the regulators wants to open this can of worms.

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