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.
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....