COMMUNITY anger has put an end to a deal between supplements giant Blackmores and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia which would have seen pharmacists recommending vitamin and dietary supplements with prescription medicines.The Guild, which represents 94 per cent of Australia’s 5,200 pharmacies, had reached an agreement with Blackmores to recommend a range of their products to patients when they picked up prescriptions for antibiotics, cholesterol and high blood pressure medications.
The deal was immediately met with anger and concern from leading health organisations including the Pharmacist Coalition for Health Reform (PCHR), the Australian Medical Association and the National Prescribing Service (NPS), which questioned whether the Guild was putting its commercial interest ahead of its role as a health service provider.
The concerns were raised because of the lack of evidence about the benefits of using dietary or vitamin supplements when taking prescription medications.
Dr Geraldine Moses, a drug safety researcher, told Fairfax’s Julia Medew that there was evidence that the more drugs a person took, the more likely they were to experience complications. She said that it was incorrect to presume that replenishing nutrients that were reduced by prescription medications was the right thing to do. Blackmores were “presuming that because levels go down, we should make them come back up again, but for all we know, those levels going down is part of the mechanism of the drug,” she said.
News of the partnership also prompted the NPS to review the evidence for the supplements that were to be promoted.
The NPS states on its website that “People shouldn’t take complementary medicines just because their prescription medicines could cause nutritional deficiencies or side effects.
“Adding an additional medicine should never be done lightly, especially if you’re already on multiple medicines — it adds to your financial cost, and might cause side effects or medicine interactions or even affect how well you take your other medicines”.
The financial motivations behind the deal for the Pharmacy Guild were laid bare by one supporter of the move, the Commonwealth Bank (CBA).
CBA analyst Natalie Kelly told The Australian that the move was set to increase pharmacists’ non-dispensary sales at a time of reforms to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and greater price transparency.
In other words, the deal would have allowed pharmacists to make money at a time when their profits were under pressure in other areas.
The Guild said the decision to abandon the deal had been made “in view of the strong level of public concern about the proposal”.
“The idea that community pharmacists would take part in commercial ‘upselling’ without regard to their professional standards is offensive to our profession and rejected by the guild’.’
The PCHR,?which represents 20,000 pharmacists, welcomed the decision.
“Our members were extremely unhappy with the deal, with a Pharmacist Coalition poll of close to 500 people showing that 94% disagreed with the Blackmores deal and believed it undermined the professionalism of pharmacists,” spokeswoman Yvonne Allinson said.
Despite the resolution of this issue, it’s not the first time pharmacies have come in for criticism over a perceived conflict of interest between their commercial aims and health care role.
Many pharmacies sell weight-loss shakes, supplements and bars despite strong and consistent evidence showing that they provide no benefit or even lead to weight gain.
At least people can now be assured that when they go to the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions, the prescription will be all that they’ll be getting.