Pharmacists under fire as BBC exposé uncovers illegal POM sales

Practice A BBC investigation accusing nine pharmacies of illegally selling POMs such as diazepam over the counter has sparked outcry among pharmacists and denials that the cases reflect the profession as a whole.

Pharmacists were being forced to defend their profession today (December 17), after a BBC investigation accused nine pharmacies of selling prescription-only medicines (POMs) illegally.

The NPA and Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said the investigation, which alleged that nine pharmacists in London sold POMs including diazepam without a prescription, were isolated cases and did not reflect pharmacy as a whole.

And the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) said it was already investigating a number of allegations that pharmacies were selling POMs illegally, after the BBC investigation triggered a call from shadow health secretary Andy Burnham for a review of how pharmacy was regulated.

BBC reporters managed to buy 288 diazepam tablets, 21 temazepam tablets, 294 amoxicillin tablets, 24 Viagra tablets and one bottle of Oramorph

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Working for the BBC Inside Out programme, undercover reporters were sold diazepam, opiates and other POMs at the pharmacies without a prescription at prices up to £85.

Over a period of several weeks, the team managed to buy 288 diazepam tablets, 21 temazepam tablets, 294 amoxicillin tablets, 24 Viagra tablets and one bottle of Oramorph.

The investigation will be aired on BBC Inside Out tonight in the London region at 7:30pm and will then be available nationally for seven days on the BBC iPlayer.

The NPA, PSNC and the RPS issued a joint statement in response to the investigation, which said: "These are very isolated cases that do not reflect normal community pharmacy practice. It is not a reflection on pharmacy as a whole, or on a particular section of the pharmacy network – it is a reflection on the behaviours of a very few individuals, if the allegations are proven."

The NPA said the group, together with the RPS and PSNC, was told about the broadcast date of the investigation last week and had been working together to handle media interest.

The RPS said most pharmacists would be shocked by the seriousness of the allegations.

Day Lewis regional manager Jay Patel said it was a dark day for pharmacy and called the alleged behaviour of the pharmacists who sold medicines to the BBC absolutely disgraceful.

"It must be clamped down on; this breaks every moral code and legal code that we as pharmacists are bound by," he said. "These bad apples must be removed from the register and support offered to the patients whose lives may have been damaged by their behaviour."

And Gordon Couper, a contractor at Handbridge Pharmacy in Chester, told C+D that the regulator should throw the book at those found to have broken the rules, but he said the pharmacists highlighted by the BBC were not representative.

"As always if there are one or two bad ones in the pot it's going to make it harder for everyone else."

The BBC Inside Out investigation also claimed there was a confusing enforcements system, with the GPhC and MHRA as two separate watchdogs. It accused the GPhC of not being able to present an overall picture of how widespread the problem is.

"As the pharmacy regulator, our role is to protect patients who use pharmacy services and we will investigate any concerns that we identify through our inspection regime, or that are brought to our attention," GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said.

The pharmacists accused by the BBC were unavailable for comment and some were seeking legal advice.


What do you make of the BBC's allegations?

Comment below or email us at haveyoursay@chemistanddruggist.co.uk You can also find C+D on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook

67 Comments

Career Miss Take, Community pharmacist

Let's face it, the the GPhC does **** all.

Christopher Plail, Community pharmacist

The expose doesn't surprise me at all I was in one pharmacy where I was in a dispute with a customer wanting to buy Betnovate, his argument was that the regular pharmacist an Eastern European import always sold it to him and had recommended it to him in the first place. On speaking to the staff they backed up his claim and told me they had pointed out to the pharmacist it should not be sold over the public, the pharmacist's reply was "that if she was qualified enough to sell it in her own country then she was qualified sell to sell it here."
All overseas qualified pharmacists EU or not should not only pass an English for other language speakers test but also have to some form of examination in the same way as our preregs have to do that not only tests their skills but also reinforces the legal requirements.
I have met some very knowledgeable and ethical pharmacist from overseas who speak excellent English but equally I met some shockers some of whom I cannot believe are genuine pharmacists

Peter McAuley, Community pharmacist

Have you reported this particular pharmacist to the GPhC?
This is the only way to drive out poor pharmacists who do obey the UK laws on supplies of medicines.

Brian Austen, Senior Management

Health and Safety officers finding a critical breach of regulations have the power to suspend a business from trading in the interests of public safety pending the outcome of a full investigation that only takes weeks. Unannounced Inspections should be made of pharmacies and the inspectors should have such enforcement powers.

Michael Franks, Community pharmacist

there are calls for tighter control of pharmacies. we already have a control system . all POM goods into a pharmacy are invoiced , all sales must be via prescription or documented via pgd so it is quite simple an inspector goes in and asks to see invoices for the goods involved, asks the pricing bureaux for the amount dispensed in a given time and asks to see from the computer the amount dispensed on private scripts, allow for a small amount that may have been discarded from being dropped on floor if from a bulk pack (very minimal) and look at the missing amount, with an estimate of how many might have been there at the start of the invoiced period. with cds even the private scripts have to be sent to the pricing bureaux.
the inspectors are well aware of dodgy pharmacies and this simple exercise could be done with no further legislation required.
for the record when i sold my pharmacy a few years ago i went to the area looking for locum positions. i saw patients walking into the dispensaries in that area and in one pharmacy i saw a packet of stillnoct being purchased with no obvious handing over of a script. it is possible that a script had been previously provided but i had a gut feeling that it had not.
more inspectors going into the shops in question will uncover the evidence of the rogue pharmacists who can then be removed from the register immediately.
we are not talking of minor errors here, nor of an emergency supply being forgotten to be recorded this is sale for profit that could cause the patient harm.

Anne Butler, Locum pharmacist

Viagra-readily available via PGD in many pharmacies. Amoxicillin readily available in spanish pharmacies, and a few spanish pharmacists don't seem to realise that it can't be sold here. Many POM's available via emergency supply regulations(or is that an inconvenience supply) no wonder the public is confused. Refused in one shop because they want to buy a Ventolin inhaler, but easily available in Asda. However supply of Oramorph and Temazepam is totally unacceptable under any circumstances and the G.Ph.C should make the investigation and prosecution of guilty culprits a priority- not let it linger for years before we see the Stat comittee results

Shahid Bashir, Locum pharmacist

Truly sad day for pharmacy & pharmacists. I think the GPhC should be doing mystery shopper investigations like the ones BBC did. That way, they'd comb out ALL the bad apples. Result: more jobs for the honest ones since there'll be fewer on the register.

Philip Sealey, Locum pharmacist

I imagine this is a phenomenon confined to independent community pharmacists. They have neither superintendents above them nor the robust corporate governance of the multiples/supermarkets. In addition, many tend to employ family members. Much has been said over many years regarding the demise of the independents. Well, bring it on I say. If the featured pharmacists are typical examples then the sooner they are out of the profession, the better..

Ian Kemp, Community pharmacist

What a idiotic statement. Sure these are all independents but that doesn't mean all independents are crooked. Doesn't Philip Sealey realise that his equivalent non-pharmacist is saying ' these are all pharmacists so all pharmacists must be crooked'. Yes that will include you Philip. We ALL now have a massive PR problem and blaming certain factions will not help [ at least Philip isn't being racist ].
Andy Burnham might have a point. Let's look at things in the round and have a full investigation of the supply of benzos including prescribing. Now that might have a REAL impact on patient safety.

Claire Slater, Academic pharmacist

It would be interesting to know how many other pharmacies the reporter went to where he was REFUSED the sale.
very sad day indeed for community pharmacy

Ramesh Menon, Community pharmacist

Reading all the comments, i feel that there is an element of categorisation by certain commentators on certain coloured pharmacist..Though i am not claiming any foul play, Lets not forget that the journalist hand picked them. Having said that, i think all those involved are disgraceful for the profession and for their communities. Lets also honestly admit that if it is an issue in certain community we need to take it head on and take stringent steps to resolve it rather than entering into a mudslinging game.

sanjai sankar, Locum pharmacist

I used to Locum for a well known multiple on Edgware road and some customers would ask for Viagra as if they expected to get it without Rx....They would say " Oh the other guy up the road sells it to me,"I have a feeling this behaviour has been going on for quite some time...In light of increasing Regulations and Accountability protocols and punishing Pharmacists severly for seemingly minor transgressions, it takes the BBC rather than the GPC to expose this....unbelievable...

Ling Sung Yoong, Community pharmacist

There are a lot heated and rash comments at the moment. I just hope all of us can have a united stand not just on this issue but for how our profession is moving forward. We should take stock and move ahead sensibly, no "you against me".

Asif Ghafoor, Community pharmacist

A dark day in pharmacy.....but let us remember every profession has its bad apples........I blame GPC, as they are too busy dealing with stupid cases where there is no need for it.....while things like this go on......Would love to have been a fly on the wall this morning at GPC offices......pathetic.....the whole lot.....

These pharmacists who done wrong, should be jailed.......greed.....greed....is it really worth it....study five years for a few quid.....god!!!!

zulmamon@aol.com, Non healthcare professional

Fast track prosecution and closed down all offending pharmacies. Seize their assets under the proceeds of crime act.Bringing the profession into disrepute in such a fashion is unacceptable. They should be named and shamed on Crime Watch! However, the damage has been done to the reputation of the profession.

zulmamon@aol.com, Non healthcare professional

Fast track prosecution and closed down all offending pharmacies. Seize their assets under the proceeds of crime act.Bringing the profession into disrepute in such a fashion is unacceptable. They should be named and shamed on Crime Watch! However, the damage has been done to the reputation of the profession.

zulmamon@aol.com, Non healthcare professional

Fast track prosecution and closed down all offending pharmacies. Seize their assets under the proceeds of crime act.Bringing the profession into disrepute in such a fashion is unacceptable. They should be named and shamed on Crime Watch! However, the damage has been done to the reputation of the profession.

Russell Kaye, Hospital pharmacist

This investigation will just add to this incorrect public perception that all Pharmacists are glorified shop assistants, just as Pharmacy is trying to promote itself in the new NHS. It was frustrating how the whole profession was being tarnished with the same brush although there is a real issue out their with a minority who could not give a monkeys about ethics, morals or patient care and are simply in Pharmacy to make maximum money probably having held that attitude from day one at university and who will not change. Although sending those on tv tonight to prison for drug dealing might make a few wake up.

Michael Franks, Community pharmacist

it is quite simple strike all of them off the register as soon as possible. if a patient is on a pom there is a legal way of supplying it. the emergency supply regulations give us the power in genuine situations where the patient has run out to supply the drugs , subject to correct paperwork being kept. and labelled correctly. the only problem with the emergency supplies regulation is that we are limited to visitors mainly from the eec. it is wrong that we cant supply us /canadian/australian.new zealand visitors as their citizens have developed medical supply arrangements as good as our own. the pharmacist has to justify their supplies if required to so we must ensure that we can do so or face being struck off.

Ronald Jarrett, Other pharmacist

Don't comment about people's creed or colour. I have been qualified for 43 years and lets face it there are some people that will do ANYTHING for an extra quid !!
I asked a senior member and ex Society President at a local meeting in the 80's when the PI's where in their infancy if he used them. He refused to give a clear answer.
At that time it was borderline to use them , but selling Diazepam etc is beyond the pale .

Sling them out with MAXIMUM publicity .

mike harvey, Community pharmacist

i know why i am so upset about this awful indictment of greed and lawlessness.
when i trained in central london as a post grad at an all night chemist. in 1960 .we were surrounded by people who wanted drugs illegally..but thankfully my tutor taught me the LAW..and it stayed with me ever since.....you dont forget some things in your training...do you ?

mike harvey, Community pharmacist

rogue is a good word for these so called REGISTERED pharmacists ....whether wearing ties or not....and someone has a point about the fact they are independents...is life so bad for them they have to break the law to try to make more money. ? maybe they would better off out of pharmacy altogether.....
they are disgrace to the profession and have let us down BIG TIME.hope some of them are reading this....too busy talking to their lawyers...why am i so upset about this ?

Peter Marshall, Community pharmacist

Andy Burnham is right. We do need effective regulation, and we now need to see a strong response from the GPhC. If those accused are found guilty, they need to be dealt with and if necessary removed from our professional register.
We need to send a strong message , leaving no stone unturned. Supplying diazepam or temazepam without prescription should lead to permanent removal from the GPhC register.
Do these pharmacists not understand the law ?

Barry Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

If only this were true!
You use the word soon - how soon do you think? Years, many years I fear. They will be in hiding and the GPhC will have to interview them. Don't hold your breath.

Ngoc Thinh Pham, Locum pharmacist

unfortunately there are too many bad apples like them in the retail sector

Barry Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

As it says on the BBC..."calls are mounting to clampdown on chemists like these".
Totally agree. These people have no respect for the law or the profession.
Fast-track them to fitness to practice. Before they disappear into the darkness they populate.
We will investigate says Duncan Rudkin - right well according to your track records lets not hope that means hearings 3 to 5 years from now.
The regulation system does need looking at but let us hope that the Police get in these pharmacies as soon as possible.
Disgusting - a horrible day for pharmacists.
Perhaps we should take care to make sure private Rx are filled properly now as well and that we ask for legally valid Rx.

Stephen Riley, Community pharmacist

It is certainly a sorry state of affairs when some of colleagues may have seriously let the profession down in this manner. Selling POMs illeagally is serious enough in itself, but selling diazepam and morphine liquid and then telling patients to adjust the dose as they need to is truely shocking.

We need to establish that this has definately been the case and the allegations are properly founded, certain BBC journalism has not been the best in recent times. I suspect it will be a small minority acting in this disgraceful way and a widespread problem. It does not make it right, but you see it in others (e.g. police being paid by media, MPs expenses, Doctors prescribing when struck off, head teachers stealing funds), it is not particular to Pharmacists. However, it is imperative that the GPhC swiftly and properly deal with any Pharmacist or Technician found to be guilty and they are also prosecuted. I have to agree with some others in that this is an important way the GPhC should be protecting the public rather than focusing on more minor points in inspections. Guilty individuals need to be made an example of. But it must be made clear that it is not necessarily widespread or indicative of our profession.

nader Siabi, Community pharmacist

It is disgusting and demoralising for hard working, decent and professional pharmacists. GPhC should take action immediately and suspend those implicated in the program, there is no room for complacency here. We cannot allow clandestine pharmacists running community. This is a black stain on profession. I will urge the GPhc to fast tract disciplinary procedures those responsible for this type bad behaviour.

Stephen Griffiths, Other pharmacist

If these allegations are substantiated, then those involved should be removed from the register as soon as possible. And that should be permanently, unless there are significant mitigating circumstances.

mike harvey, Community pharmacist

among the most ghastly revelations is a fellow pharmacist selling Oramorph and saying "take as much as you like or you can adjust the dose however you want "...how does this person qualify as a custodian of potent medicaments ?...what planet is HE on ? and how can he ever be trusted. No wonder he doesnt want to talk to anyone but his lawyer

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