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Asda cuts back inhaler scheme because of pharmacist concerns

Practice Asda pharmacies are now selling just one script-free Ventolin Evohaler at a time and require patients' consent to contact their GPs, after pharmacists raised concerns that doctors were being left out of the loop.

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

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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?

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Super Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Compared to what the GPHC are planning for the open display of P meds, this is nothing. At least pharmacists still have a full input into this scheme from start to finish & can refuse a supply if they are not 100% satisfied!!

Paul Reader, Non healthcare professional

A very good result. - it begins to restore my faith in pharmacists. Let's hope Day Lewis, NPA et al take note.. I was beginning to wonder why we have POMs in this country.

Mike Ellis-Martin, Academic pharmacist

I think this is a great service ASDA are providing. In fact, for many patients they will be speaking to a pharmacist to get a new supply instead of simply filling in a prescription request which will probably never be seen by the GP in a pile of prescriptions being signed at the end of surgery. So the pharmacy is provided a much more robust mechanism than the 'GP'.
The part I would agree with is that the GP be informed of the supply, but I would go further and say that this should be a requirement for every emergency supply.

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

I agree that it is a step forward to bring GPs into the loop, however, to say that the pharmacy provides a more robust mechanism that the GP is simply stretching it and quite a surprise from an 'academic pharmacist'. Most practising pharmacists are 'academic' as they keep up with CPD.

I do asthma and COPD , spirometry reviews in conjunction with practice nurses in GP surgeries and would hesitate to endorse Asda's system as more robust. You don;t know the patient's history, spirometry, and so on.

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

"this should be a requirement for every emergency supply."

Errr...... I think we have more than enough form filing and paperwork already thank you.

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