Asda has cut back on its script-free inhaler scheme to address pharmacists' concerns that the service was not providing joined-up care with GPs, C+D has learned.
Since November, pharmacists have been selling only one Ventolin Evohaler every eight weeks without a prescription, instead of two as previously, the supermarket has said.
And pharmacists have to get consent from the customers to contact their GPs before handing the inhalers over, under the amended patient group direction (PGD).
"Our pharmacists said it was important we tied in our service with the service GPs were giving [asthma patients]" John Evans, Asda
More on prescription-free inhalers
The move was prompted by Asda pharmacists concerns that customers were not telling their GP that they had already bought an inhaler from the supermarket and therefore "the asthma was not as well controlled as it should have been", Asda superintendent pharmacist John Evans told C+D.
Pharmacists also said that one inhaler was sufficient for the scheme, which was designed to help asthma patients in an emergency, Mr Evans added.
"Our pharmacists said it was important we tied in our service with the service GPs were giving [asthma patients]. So it's more about a tied-up service rather than a stand alone service."
Under Asda's amended PGD, customers must now consent to a pre-printed letter being sent to their GP before they are sold an inhaler for £7.
The PGD's launch in July sparked debate among C+D readers, with some voicing concerns about the potential abuses of the service and others questioning whether the decision to price two inhalers at £7 – which is below the prescription charge – was made for commercial reasons.
The British Medical Association's General Practitioners Committee (GPC) said changes to the scheme were a "triumph of common sense" but could have been avoided.
"Had they talked it over with anybody other than their original providers... [Asda] may never have got into that mess in the first place," said GPC clinical and prescribing committee chair Bill Beeby.
Charity Asthma UK said Asda's original PGD had been a bold move that caused concerns about "overuse of the reliever inhalers and the fact that GPs would effectively be cut out of the loop".
"These changes mean that patients will still have increased choice options about where they can get an inhaler should they need one, which is a good thing, but now their GP will know they've had one," said Asthma UK executive director of research and policy Samantha Walker.
The GPC raised concerns last month about the inclusion of asthma inhalers in a PGD scheme being piloted by Day Lewis and the NPA.
But the NPA reiterated this week that the scheme includes "strict controls" over the supply of medications, so only one Ventolin Evohaler is provided to a patient every three months.
Do you think Asda was right to roll back its inhaler service?