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Regulators contacted, as fears latest Pharmacy2U ads ‘dupe’ patients

As part of the campaign, Pharmacy2U's services are advertised under individual pharmacy listings
As part of the campaign, Pharmacy2U's services are advertised under individual pharmacy listings

Pharmacists and pharmacy bodies have raised concerns with regulators over claims that a Pharmacy2U advertising campaign is “duping” patients into signing up to its services.

Pharmacy2U’s “potentially highly misleading” advertisement campaign with the Evening Standard online directory encourages users to register with the company's services via a banner ad that appears under all individual pharmacy listings. 

Several readers flagged the issue with C+D and have expressed concerns that this could be a ploy to “poach” patients from bricks-and-mortar pharmacies, or a deliberate attempt to “dupe” people into thinking they are supporting their local pharmacy, rather than signing up to Pharmacy2U’s services.

When asked by C+D for more details and whether it was aware of the terms of the advertising campaign, Pharmacy2U declined to comment.

The Evening Standard has also been contacted for comment.

Confused patients

Keerti Kanani, pharmacist owner of Cranston Chemist in Thornton Heath, said: “It is very unethical and unprofessional. We have patients coming in, thinking we are part of Pharmacy2U who expect us to sort any problems.

“They are deliberately misleading patients and implying that pharmacies in the community do not provide the same service,” she claimed.

Meanwhile, an anonymous independent contractor based in London claimed the actions of Pharmacy2U are helping to undermine public confidence in bricks-and-mortar pharmacies by “duping” patients into signing up for the wrong service.

The contractor has called for swift action to be taken.

“It will be the most vulnerable and elderly…patients who suffer unless authorising bodies review and correct it, with us left picking up the pieces when patients come into the actual pharmacy they thought they were signing up to,” they told C+D.

Regulator and watchdog responses

The General Pharmaceutical Council told C+D that it has been made aware of the issue and the relevant teams are reviewing the situation.

The advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority, told C+D it had received nine complaints regarding Pharmacy2U's advertising in the Evening Standard, “over claims it is misleading consumers and it not clearly being an ad”.

However, it stressed that “there is currently not an investigation into these ads, as we are still reviewing and assessing these complaints”.

NPA calls for "prompt action"

Gareth Jones, head of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said: “A number of NPA members have contacted us with concerns about new advertising tactics by Pharmacy2U.

“We believe the new adverts, which place Pharmacy2U branding in close proximity to the listings of other pharmacies, are potentially highly misleading.”

The NPA has contacted regulators for “a swift review of the situation and prompt action”, Mr Jones added.

This is not the first time Pharmacy2U adverts have received complaints. In 2018, adverts claiming that the online pharmacy saves the NHS £300 million a year were removed by the Advertising Standards Authority, as it ruled the claims were “not currently realistic”.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said he is “extremely concerned” by the potential for patients to be misled by the advertising and is looking to investigate the matter further.

“It is not clear in some parts of the directory which links take people to the listed pharmacy they may be looking for, rather than the Pharmacy2U website,” he said.

“We are liaising with our members and will consider whether this issue should be referred to the relevant authorities.”

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp), maintains that this type of marketing tactic can reflect negatively on the pharmacy profession and pledged to “address this issue with immediate effect”. 

“AIMp will be liaising with regulators and stakeholders to highlight the issues regarding some of the advertising tactics used by online pharmacies that are showing the profession in a bad light, and urgently seek to understand what the regulators can do to address these issues,” she said.

AIMp: "Resist online pharmacy"

Dr Hannbeck's comments come as she calls on the sector to come together to “resist online pharmacy” and the “ever-increasing aggressive advertising tactics” some of them use.

She affirmed that the sector must not allow the argument to develop that online dispensing saves the NHS money, stating it is a “myth” and that “all pharmacies are paid in the same way from the same pot, whether they are online or located in the high street”.

“Delivering medicines remotely will reduce the amount of funding available to bricks-and-mortar pharmacies that will cease to employ as many local, trained, skilled staff and not be able to supply the same levels of care and attention. Eventually, they will close completely,” she warned.

Dr Hannbeck noted that the issue with online pharmacies is that they are often “not familiar with local doctors” as opposed to a local community pharmacist who maintains regular contact with a patient’s GP.

“We’re aware of a patients' health histories, health needs and the medicines they take so can advise them on how to take their medicines properly, therefore helping reduce medicines wastage and making a saving for the NHS.

“If pharmacies are no longer there who would the population turn to? Surely not to A&E departments and overstretched GP surgeries,” Dr Hannbeck asked.

Have you had patients ask about Pharmacy2U services in your pharmacy?

John Cleese, Production & Technical

I look forward to the AIMp's campaign against the NPA, which has an Online Pharmacy Services Group which aims "to help you operate efficiently, integrate more fully with other health services and give patients the best possible experience of online pharmacy services". Resist!

Meeand Depharma, Student

I clicked on this link thinking it was legimate health advice and it turns out is a funded advert for Oprex. Call the regulator.  

John Cleese, Production & Technical

I tried to read about this story on three other pharmacy news websites, but each time, I got an advert for Gaviscon. Call the regulator.

Janice Francis, Pharmacy technician

I've worked inPharmacy for 40 years and P2u are not only unethical, but dangerous! The requests they put through bear no resemblance to what is on the patients records sometimes. I find myself asking ..where did that come from...? No reference on meds being given b4. I can't believe they're allowed to take the patients word for what they request and assume it's ok! Plus...posting meds through letterbox is unsafe! I know of instances that CD's have been posted to wrong address. 

Meeand Depharma, Student

Another balanced piece by C&D. The online bogeyman script is getting very thin now. 

MrR Patel, Community pharmacist

Well said Leyla and AIMP! 

Meera Sharma, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

The National Pointless Association (NPA) can moan to GPhC as much as they want but not going to achieve anything. 

Kalpen Patel, Community pharmacist

About time GPhC took stern action against P2U and their Superintendent Pharmacist. He/she surely knew what they were doing by using this advertisement tactics. This is not the first time they have used this kind of tactics to fool patients away from bricks and mortar pharmacies. A lot of senior patients would easily be fooled by this advert.

Also the Advertising Standards Authority wants us to contact P2U and solve the issue regarding this advert!!! What good that is? Such a waste of time complaining to them!!

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Wow. How many straw men can you put in one article? Is there an award for that?

Meera Sharma, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

Did P2U ask you to come here and comment? Perhaps you should stick to commenting on production rather than stuff you don't know about.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

I have had patients ask about P2U - mostly when they haven't got any medication and they want us to help them out! That's the point at which I look suitably crestfallen and direct them to their GP

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Those patients must love you for "helping them out" so effectively.

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

I signposted them to their prescriber so their prescriber could issue a prescription to their pharmacy of choice. I could have completed an emergency supply but, as there was no issue with getting a prescription or having it dispensed (other than their choice of pharmacy added in a 5 day lead time) it really didn't seem appropriate. In addition, it may have lead to accusations of my 'profiteering off a patients misfortune' as they would have had to pay for medication they normally recieve free. Oddly, more than a few have changed to us for dispensing, since the situation highlighted the flaws in using online pharmacies. You're welcome!

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

And how should he help them out then?

Rather like going into Sainsbury's to moan about your Tesco home delivery!

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Do you really need me to explain how you could help a patient in this situation? Pharmacy is indeed in a crisis!

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Yes. John. Enlighten us with your technical production knowledge.

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