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Stop retailers from offering multi-buy paracetamol deals, RPS urges

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has urged the government to bring in new laws that would prevent retailers from offering multi-buy deals on paracetamol.

Such offers can encourage people to buy more paracetamol than they need, which “poses a risk of accidental or impulsive overdose”, the RPS warned this morning (November 6).

It said that multi-buy deals are “in direct violation” of voluntary sales guidelines set by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) that it said “exist to prevent overdose”. It urged the government to “pass legislation that prohibits retailers” from offering such promotions.

The MHRA’s guidance on analgesics sales says that promotional offers on pain relief “should not directly encourage the purchase of more than one pack” and also warns against selling more than two packs in a single transaction.

Read more: C+D investigation exposes breaches of paracetamol guidelines

Meanwhile, by law general sales outlets may sell a maximum pack size of 16 tablets or capsules of pain relief medicines. By contrast, a pharmacy may sell packs of up to 32 tablets or capsules under the supervision of a pharmacist.

It is against the law to sell more than 100 tablets of paracetamol or aspirin in a single transaction.

However, the RPS said it was “concerned this self-regulation is not sufficient to safeguard public health” and called for “robust regulatory action”.

“While many retailers stick to the [MHRA] guidance, others deliberately ignore it,” it said.

According to the government’s suicide strategy for England, published last month (September 11), the MHRA will keep an eye on whether current legislation and guidance is “safe and proportionate”, while the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) will “explore with the MHRA whether regulatory change is required on the quantities of sales of tablets”.

Read more: 6 in 10 readers want to see paracetamol made a P medicine

RPS president Claire Anderson said that we should not “solely rely on voluntary codes of conduct, especially when these codes are openly disregarded by some retailers”.

She added that “stricter” legislation could save lives by protecting people from the “consequences of paracetamol overdose”.

“It’s high time legislation was changed to protect public health and prioritise patient safety over profit," she stressed.

The MHRA's chief safety officer Alison Cave said that the watchdog has "published guidance on the sales of analgesics such as paracetamol, discouraging multibuy promotions that encourage consumers to buy more than they need".

She noted that the MHRA contacts retailers in cases where the guidance is not being followed to "highlight the reasons for the guidelines and to take reasonable actions to mitigate the risks of accidental or impulsive overdose.”

She added: “We welcome the publication of the government’s five-year Suicide Prevention Strategy for England, and we will be working with the DHSC and other key stakeholders, to explore whether regulatory change is required.” 

In 2015, a C+D investigation found that half of non-pharmacy retailers were willing to sell three 16-tablet packs of paracetamol despite the MHRA’s guidelines.

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