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Asda admits OTC ‘link selling’ policy for Pharmacy First consultations

After reports that it had denied encouraging link selling, the supermarket pharmacy has told C+D that link selling will be part of a Pharmacy First consultation “when appropriate”.

Asda pharmacists will be “link selling” over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications during Pharmacy First consultations “when appropriate”, the supermarket pharmacy confirmed yesterday (February 6).

Last week (February 1), pharmacist Greg Lawton posted pictures on X (formerly Twitter) purporting to be from an Asda presentation on Pharmacy First. 

Read more: Asda in Pharmacy First locum row over ‘unacceptable’ email

One of the pages, which does not have a visible Asda watermark in the social media post, stated that “link selling is key” and nested immediately underneath in a bullet point that “most customers even if eligible [for other treatment through the service] will need pain relief”.

The supermarket initially disputed that the page containing the link selling claims was an Asda document, telling the pharmacy press that it did not believe the page has come from Asda and that it would look into the matter if C+D could share any information to the contrary.

Read more: PDA slams NHSE for ‘refusing’ to stagger Pharmacy First introduction

But C+D was able to secure an image of the page containing the Asda watermark and a source told C+D that both pages shared in Mr Lawton’s post were from the same seven-page presentation.

In a subsequent email, Asda told C+D that when it said it did not believe that the page was from Asda, it meant that it had not been able to verify that it was from an Asda presentation.

It later clarified that it now had no reason to believe that the Asda logo was present in error. 


“When appropriate”


Asda also clarified that while the page said that “most customers” using the Pharmacy First service will need pain relief, this did not mean that OTC pain relief would be offered at most consultations.

But a spokesperson said that the supermarket’s pharmacists are “trained to offer the best possible treatment options, including advising on OTC products when appropriate”, although OTC self-care “is not covered” by the Pharmacy First service. 

They said that this would provide customers with “complete and effective care during their consultation” and that the supermarket has informed its pharmacists of the importance of link selling OTC medications.

Read more: Asda offers patients cash incentive to chat to pharmacist about Pharmacy First

The spokesperson said that Asda’s “assertion that ‘most customers, even if eligible, will need pain relief’ is based on extensive experience of dealing with patients seeking OTC self-care”. 

They added that it “reflects an understanding of patient needs based on the experiences of [its] pharmacists”.


Affects “public opinion of pharmacy”


Mr Lawton told C+D that “businesses can choose an approach that emphasises quality pharmacist-led professional care, or one that emphasises sales”.

“The care provided through Pharmacy First may previously have involved patients seeing a doctor and I do not imagine that the doctor would have tried to link sell, or sought to supply painkillers to most of them as a matter of course,” he said.

Read more: GPhC: Pharmacies must ‘assess’ whether they can 'safely offer' Pharmacy First

But he suggested that Asda may have “merely written down what other businesses are thinking”.

The new Pharmacy First service is an “exciting opportunity” that will “affect public opinion of pharmacy [and] it would be a shame if the public held the view that pharmacy has an interest in sales that it cannot resist”, Mr Lawton added.

“As a step towards building public trust, Asda should consider correcting the record with parts of the pharmacy media who reported that it denied telling staff that ‘link selling is key’,” he told C+D.


“Compromises clinical decision-making”


A number of pharmacists also reacted with dismay at Mr Lawton’s post on X.

Consultant pharmacist for primary care and diabetes Charles Odiase said that link selling “compromises clinical decision-making”.

And former Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) England board chair Thorrun Govind said that the policy was “embarrassing”, while Wicker Pharmacy chair and former superintendent Martin Bennett added that it built on the supermarket’s “cut price flu jabs” policy.

Read more: Asda offers patients £2 incentive to boost private flu vaccine uptake

In November 2022, C+D reported that Asda was adding £2 to patients' "cash pot" on its rewards app when they booked their private flu jabs online.

Asda also faced criticism last month when a leaked internal email revealed that it had threatened locums with removal from its locum directory if they refuse to provide Pharmacy First services – a tactic also employed by Rowlands.

And the same month, in a move that echoed its flu jab strategy, the supermarket said it would be raising awareness of the new Pharmacy First service by adding £1 to patients’ “cash pot” on its rewards app when they speak to the pharmacy team about it.

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