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GPhC: No action against pharmacies selling antivaccine books

GPhC: The pharmacies advise patients to seek independent medical advice before purchasing a product

The regulator will not conduct a further investigation into two homeopathic pharmacies selling books with titles such as Vaccine Damaged Children

 

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has decided there are no grounds to take action against two homeopathic pharmacies that sell antivaccination books.

Both Ainsworths Homeopathic Pharmacy and Helios Homeopathic Pharmacy sell several books on their websites that challenge the effectiveness of vaccines. Titles include Vaccine Free, Vaccine Damaged Children and Comparing Natural Immunity With Vaccination.

Anthony Cox, senior lecturer in clinical pharmacy at the University of Birmingham, told C+D last week (February 18) that he initially complained to the GPhC about the pharmacies last August.

At the time, the regulator said there is “nothing preventing” online pharmacies from selling antivaccine books. “This is purely a commercial matter which does not relate to a fitness-to-practise concern,” it said.

The GPhC re-examined the case after Dr Cox wrote a blog post about the incident later in the month. Following a "thorough investigation", it reaffirmed its decision not to take action and told C+D yesterday (February 22) that Dr Cox’s concerns “did not meet the threshold” for referral to its investigating committee.

Patients advised to seek independent advice

In its second response to Dr Cox, the GPhC said the pharmacies had given evidence that showed they advise their customers to seek independent medical advice before purchasing a product.

It stressed that the books are not available for sale on either of the pharmacies’ homepages, and therefore customers have to “navigate around the site before accessing the books”.

The GPhC said a “customer profile” of individuals who had bought the books in 2014-15 suggested they were either qualified homeopathic practitioners or customers “with a genuine interest in homeopathy”.

There is also a “reasonable expectation” that anyone visiting the pharmacies' websites has “made an informed choice to view and consider homeopathy treatment and its various forms”, the regulator added.

Pharmacy's response

Helios Homeopathic Pharmacy said it is "not antivaccination", and does not advise customers to prevent disease by using homeopathy.

"We feel that having these books available is fulfilling our duty to explain all the options, including the risks and benefits, and help people make their own informed decisions," it told C+D today (February 23). 

Ainsworths Homeopathic Pharmacy was not available for comment. 

"Surprised" by GPhC's decision

Dr Cox told C+D he was “surprised” by the regulator’s response. He stressed that the GPhC's professional standards for pharmacists “don’t have caveats on them about consumer choice”.

Dr Cox has no objection to bookshops selling antivaccination books because he believes in "freedom of speech", but if registered pharmacies sell them it “gives credibility” to the idea, he added.

The GPhC’s standards of conduct, ethics and performance state that pharmacists must give “impartial, relevant and up-to-date” information to patients, and should not “make claims that you have no evidence for or cannot justify”.

 

Read more coverage of homeopathy....

The homeopathy debate

RPS: Government consultation on homeopathy in NHS 'overdue'

The Scientist: Speak out on homeopathy

 

Should pharmacists be allowed to sell homeopathic products?

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6 Comments

Angela Alexander, Academic pharmacist

I think this decision should be reconsidered, as it is a matter of patient safety. I would have thought that the GPhC would have seen this. What if registered pharmacies started selling other products that were known to induce patient harm, would that be ignored because it was a "commercial matter".

Calum Nelson, Locum pharmacist

You mean to tell me I've wasted all this time reading research papers and doing CPD on evidence based practice and public health when I could have just told my patients anything I want and made some money? Brilliant!  

I'm getting to work on my books: "Vitamin C Free" ; "Exercise Damaged Children" and the exciting new volume for type 1 diabetics: "Comparing Natural Glucose Tolerance with Insulin".  

This might seem absurd, but it's in no way different to what the GPhC already allow.

L H, Community pharmacist

Let me get this straight.  If I retire and the very next day I accidentally call myself a "pharmacist", despite having the knowledge from the previous day...I'm breaking the law.     BUT, if I pay the GPhC some £££ for selling scientifically unproven sugar pills strictly prepared to a method dreamed up in 1796 by a "doctor" who abandoned medical practice and made his living as a translator, then all is good?  In the interest of perspective (and scientific advance), since 1796...there has been such trivial things as the Germ theory of disease (1870), Discovery of X-Rays (1895), Aspirin (1899), Penicillin (1928), Vitamin D and that deficiency causes rickets (1921)...all of these have almost a hundred years plus of substantial EVIDENCE to back up the initial propositions.  Sweet bugger all for homeopathy.  C'mon, let's have the gold standard double blind, peer reviewed evidence! (P.S. neither an answer of "patient choice" nor your inflated tax return counts as true evidence).

Leroy Jackson, Community pharmacist

GPHC - protecting the publics safety by not getting involved in "commercial matters"

Paul Miyagi, Information Technology

Aren't there far greater things that need scrutiny rather than wasting so much effort on this trivial matter?????????????

Angela Alexander, Academic pharmacist

This is not a trivial matter. It is a matter of patient safety, which registered pharmacies should be upholding.

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