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GPhC warns pharmacist for recommending alternative medicine

John Osuku-Opio no longer offers advice about alternative medicine, the GPhC heard

John Osuku-Opio, registration number 2052880, suggested a patient should consult an iridologist over concerns his daughter had diabetes

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has warned a pharmacist against providing patients with “inappropriate advice” about alternative medicine.

John Osuku-Opio, registration number 2052880, made an "unprompted" recommendation that a customer concerned about his daughter's diabetes-like symptoms should consider iridology – an alternative medicine technique that examines a patient's iris to determine their health – the GPhC’s fitness-to-practise committee heard at a hearing on September 30.

The GPhC noted that Mr Osuku-Opio's colleagues considered him to be a “competent and caring” pharmacist, and he no longer provides advice about alternative medicine without being asked.

But it stressed that the customer who had complained about Mr Osuku-Opio had considered the pharmacist's behaviour to be “unacceptable and demanded a response”.  

Mr Osuku-Opio was working as a locum pharmacist in Pearl Pharmacy in Clapham, London in 2014 when a customer visited the pharmacy to seek advice about his seven-year-old daughter, who he was concerned had developed type 1 diabetes, the regulator heard. The customer’s daughter has since been diagnosed as diabetic and requires insulin injections four times day, the GPhC heard.

The customer planned to contact a GP the following day, and the GPhC heard that Mr Osuku-Opio "mentioned the possibility" of referring the patient to an iridologist in Yorkshire. He also gave the customer a card for his own "integrated medicine" business, which is based on the concept of "embracing a broad range of possible approaches" to medicine, the GPhC heard.

"Gratuitously introduced other diagnostic options"

The regulator said that, although Mr Osuku-Opio had mentioned seeing a GP during the consultation, the way he “gratuitously introduced other diagnostic options” would have "de-emphasised the crucial importance of doing so "at the first opportunity". Mr Osuku-Opio had also "suggested that conventional doctors would not be able to help" the customer's daughter, the GPhC found.

The regulator said that Mr Osuku-Opio had failed to make the lack of evidence for iridology clear to the customer, and it was “not persuaded” by the registrant's claim that he could “step outside his role as a pharmacist” when he wished to operate as a practitioner of other forms of medicine.

“The ethical standards of a pharmacist are not the equivalent of a coat that can be taken on and off at different times,” the regulator stressed.

It noted that Mr Osuku-Opio had apologised to the customer and had no previous disciplinary proceedings. The pharmacist had shown "some degree of insight" and the fitness-to-practise proceedings meant there was "minimal" risk he would offer similar advice again.

The GPhC said it is “open” to pharmacists “pursuing an interest” in alternative medicine. But it stressed that pharmacy is a "profession rooted in scientific method", and Mr Osuku-Opio’s decision to offer the customer information about iridology was more to do with “building [his] network of alternative practitioners” than serving the customer’s best interests. 

It warned Mr Osuku-Opio that his interest in alternative medicine should not "distract" him from his duties as a pharmacist, and he should not offer advice about alternative treatments "unless specifically asked for it".

Read the full determination here.


What do you make of the ruling?

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James Mac, Community pharmacist

It's a pity that the regulators had to be drawn into this one - it seems that the problem the customer had could have been dealt with on a local basis rather than putting this poor guy through a regulatory investigation. Though I'm glad he was just warned things like this can cast a long shadow over your career.

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Well there you have it. We'll be casting rune stones and reading bird gizzards next....the mind boggles

Phantom Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

mmmm That's why I never use the term "alternative medicine", for me it's "complementary medicine" or "complementary therapy", used in conjunction with conventional medicine to complement it, never as an alternative.

bilal hussain, Community pharmacist

I believe advice regarding alternative medicines could be given out as an ADDITION to current science-backed medicines and that there is no problem with this at all. However when advice about alternative medicine is given as a potential SUBSTITUTE for science-based medicines then that is where the problem lies. John should not have intervened with his suggestion of an iridologist when the patient had already mentioned they would be seeing the GP the next day. Alternatively he could have mentioned the option of seeing an iridologist but stating that the patient could do this only after seeing the GP. We do not play with patients health. I also agree with the above poster however that this matter didn't really require a hearing with the gphc. Pharmacists are being made to feel threatened by this 'entity' calling itself the gphc which decided to pull up pharmacists for anything large or small. Give us a break, we're professionals.

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

"could be given out as an ADDITION" why - it either has some evidence base or not, if not leave it alone.

bilal hussain, Community pharmacist

Because in the pharmacists own experience they may believe the course of action to work, regardless of a lack of evidence. Pharmacists are skilled enough to make such a call (just as doctors have differing opinions on certain matters themselves). A good example are the electronic cigarettes. Tobacco companies have spent millions in attempts to discourage users from buying these devices and as a result there are hundreds of 'studies' created to support the points made by these companies. However I still fully support these devices as I know many people have quit smoking through using these. A great example of a person quitting who I know personally is a taxi driver who used to spend £100 a week on cigarettes, yet since buying an e-cig 12 months ago he hasn't touched a real cigarette (his weekly spend has reduced to just £9 and he feels a lot better!). Another great example is the process of 'cupping' which a great number of users swear by.

James Mac, Community pharmacist

very good point.

John NotaPharmacist, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Bit of a red herring there, at least the e-cigs have a plausible mechanism as another NRT device, most of the quibbling appears to be about the quality of liquids and unknown long term effects.

bilal hussain, Community pharmacist

Yeah unlike the pharmacist in the article who believes in iridologists, I don't really hold much interest in their profession. However there are other areas out there which also lack evidence but which I do have some belief in. I would never suggest these as an alternative to evidence-backed science however.

Abid P, Primary care pharmacist

Did this matter need to go before a hearing? Waste of time and money. A verbal and/or written apology to the angry parent should have sufficed. Hopefully, Mr Osuku-Opio has realised that he needs to pursue his interests in his own time and not at work.

Leroy Jackson, Community pharmacist

Wonder when we'll see boots up for selling homeopathy products?

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Look out your window, any pigs flying ?

Hayley Johnson, Community pharmacist

And when we'll see GPhC registered pharmacists who sell homeopathy in their GPhC registered homeopathic pharmacies getting their slaps on the wrist...

Calum Nelson, Locum pharmacist

I previously reported a pharmacy for advocating the use of homoeopathy for serious health conditions (including use in resuscitation) on their website. The GPhC came back to me about 2 years later stating there were no FtP issues identified and the case was closed. In the end it was only by complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority that I got them to take down the claims.

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