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.