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C+D investigation exposes breaches of paracetamol guidelines

Poundland, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, 99p Stores, Costcutter and a Londis corner shop were all willing to sell three packs

Six out of 12 non-pharmacy retailers C+D investigated were willing to sell three 16-tablet packs, despite the MHRA recommending a two-pack limit


One in two major retail chains are willing to breach UK guidelines on paracetamol sales, a C+D investigation has revealed.

Six out of 12 non-pharmacy shops visited by undercover C+D reporters in October and November were willing to sell three 16-tablet packs of paracetamol, despite Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) guidelines recommending retailers sell no more than two packs in a single transaction.

Poundland, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, 99p Stores, Costcutter and a Londis corner shop were all willing to sell three packs of the analgesic, while the Co-operative Food, Morrisons, Lidl, Aldi, Waitrose and Asda conformed to the MHRA’s best practice limit of two packs.

A Londis spokesperson told C+D it will “issue a reminder” of the MHRA guidelines to its independent retailer partners, although the business is “confident this is an isolated incident”. Other companies pledged to give staff members extra training.

But Poundland pointed out that it is not breaking the law, because UK retailers are legally allowed to sell up to 100 paracetamol tablets without a prescription. It does not sell more than three packets of 16 tablets of the analgesic in a single transaction, and does not sell the drug to under-16s, it added.

The reaction

The MHRA told C+D that, while it is good to see some large retailers comply with its guidelines, it is “very disappointing” that others are ignoring them. “We will contact these companies and the British Retail Consortium to encourage support for these important voluntary measures,” it said.

The voluntary nature of the guidelines mean the watchdog cannot take further action against the companies, the MHRA stressed.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) president Ash Soni said C+D’s investigation posed a “question for regulators” as to whether the current guidelines “offer a good balance between protecting the public and offering accessible treatment for short-term pain”.

Mr Soni stressed the RPS will ask the MHRA to review the voluntary guidelines “if standards do not improve”.


Should paracetamol only be sold in pharmacies?
Total votes: 272


Multibuy offers

C+D’s investigation also revealed that Poundland and 99p Stores are breaching another of the MHRA’s guidelines, which state that promotional offers on pain relief medicines should not “directly encourage the purchase of more than one pack”. The MHRA discourages these offers to prevent customers “stockpil[ing] excess packs, which pose a danger for accidental or impulsive overdose”, according to its guidance.

Poundland displayed an advert that highlighted it sells three packs of paracetamol for £1, C+D found. Although the 99p Store C+D visited did not actively promote an offer, it sold three packs for 99p.

Poundland told C+D it believes its offer “provides our customers with amazing value while operating within the remit of the law”. 99p Stores told C+D no-one was available for comment.

In 2012, the RPS slammed Poundland for using the same offer, and Mr Soni said last week that the society has made its views on the retailer’s multibuy offer “very clear”. “It seems the company is unwilling to change practice, which in our view is unacceptable,” he told C+D.

Read the full findings from the C+D paracetamol investigation and responses here.


What do you make of C+D's findings?

We want to hear your views, but please express them in the spirit of a constructive, professional debate. For more information about what this means, please click here to see our community principles and information


Ms B Wilson, Pharmaceutical Adviser

I have registered my vote as No, providing retailers are responsible. It is really concerning that Poundland are quite stupid in the response they gave. Perhaps I have gotten it wrong, as I only worked for Lloyds (where at the time patients/customers, could get 100 paracetamols without prescription but then due to misuse the legislation was changed? To prescription only), So by the time I worked for Boots there was no way customers could buy more than two packs, unless of course they came in, bought, went out again and attempted to purchase more. `Other pharmacists' rather silly comments is, again not really helping, though I do agree that it is not right to charge the Rx fee for the same thing, which can be sold when could be available for far cheaper. However it should be noted that in the UK we are lucky in the States you definitely cannot `just go and buy any amount'; and I am sure it is similar on the Continent. Yes there are those who may want to use it to top themselves, this is not a useful comment at all. Surely if these people really want to do it they will have figured out other/or another way of doing it anyway (though with due respect to those who have been affected by this). My understanding it that it is about liver damage as significant can alter people's overall mortality as people should note from recent cases regarding this part of the body... However, decent Healthcare Advisors etc. are supposed to be observant and vigilant so of course the customer would not be sold extra if it were known they had sufficient or had just bought at the same place. To be honest taking excess will not alter the outcome of pain relief if there was not a good one initially which I am sure all Pharmacists will be aware of this. Other retail staff not so sure? I worked in Pharmacy for 6 years or so.... It would be quite interesting if a customer gets liver poisoning or worse dies from overdose before Poundland be a little less flippant in their responses, but then look how their shops are. I do go into them every now and again to be honest it is not a regular- thankfully! Alternatively will it get to the point where these items are banned from places other than pharmacies or similar... The whole argument really highlights professionalism - seeing the comments and realising that it is all deteriorating fast in all professions it seems, and this is a real worry because at the end of the day we are talking the wrong outcomes impacts peoples' lives here.... From me a meagre but former, highly intelligent, accredited Healthcare and pharmacy advisor.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

"""""The voluntary nature of the guidelines mean the watchdog cannot take further action against the companies, the MHRA stressed.""""" .......... This is the status of our Regulator. Why have any guidelines if they cannot be enforced by punitive actions ???? If a Pharmacist caught selling more than 2 packs in a go, then there will be battery of regulators queing up for the blood of that Pharmacist !!! Why even bother doing an investigation if you cannot take any action ??? No wonder people (no vices) like Din, who think our profession is not a profession !!!

P M, Community pharmacist

din is funny , but hes right about the gardener mine charges £ 20 / hr and his rates are going up....

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

I pay the gardener £12 an hour. I was offered work last year for £15 an hour! My gardener has no O or A levels or degree or post-grad diploma! Something is wrong with community pharmacy.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Of course Din is right. The profession, if you can call it that is a joke. Only the vast majority have to kid themselves just to get through the day without taking medication. Those at the top at RPS, GPhC, Boots et al all know this of course but rely on the illusion to maintain their six figure plus salaries.

Din Patel, Manager

There is no law that forbids selling 3 packs. This is a misleading article and poor journalism. Even many pharmacists are so stupid they do not realise this. The two pack limit is stupid. I just go to Boots, buy 2 packs, go to Wilkinsons and buy to more and then to Tesco and buy more and show the Boots pharmacist that she was an idiot for refusing the sale. The guideline is stupid. Scrap it. Why should people suffer just because the odd moron wants to top themselves? They can do so in much easier ways. They are happy to dispense 100 paracetamol tablets and charge a Rx fee, yet refuse to sell the same person 100 tablets instead as they are greedy and stupid. The salaries of pharmacists now reflects their dinimished common sense.

Gordon McIllroy, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Wow. Don't sit on the fence with your opinion then. It is true that these are guidelines and this does allow a certain amount of interpretation but this is not a very mature way to set out those opinions. I am happy to work for an employer that sticks to the guidelines.

Sue Per, Locum pharmacist

Show me an ethical professional employer!!, They are few and far between, scarse, The only ones i know of are meddling, dictatorial, slave masters, running "dispensing factory shops"and not pharmacies, and milking the NHS for what it is worth, along the way!!

SADAF MUKHTAR, Community pharmacist

Very unprofessional response and approach, we need to rethink how we want to portray our image as professional

Din Patel, Manager

Be honest, you are not a professional. You are a graduate shop assistant. Does your meagre salary justify professional status? 5 years down the line your local gardener will earn more than you as your employers treat you like dirt.

Dave Downham, Manager

Well you chose to be one, you muppet!

Nigel McMann, Other healthcare professional

I seriously worry about the future of the profession when I see comments such as those above.

David Kent, Community pharmacist

What future?

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