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 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”.
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.