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Pharmacists question ethics of reward points for repeat scripts

Business After 75 per cent of C+D readers branded the practice unethical, Boots defended its scheme as "rewarding loyalty", but IPF chair Fin McCaul (pictured) claimed that the multiples were exerting their muscle power.

Pharmacists have hit out at multiples that offer reward points for signing up to repeat prescription schemes, with three quarters of C+D readers polled branding the practice unethical.

The poll of 485 readers revealed that 75 per cent were against multiples, including Boots and Tesco, offering customers reward points for signing up, as only 19 per cent said it made "good business sense" and 6 per cent were unsure.

"It's symptomatic of the larger groups exerting their muscle power to try to induce patients" Fin McCaul, IPF

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But while the Independent Pharmacy Federation (IPF) slammed the schemes for "inducing patients", lawyers said it did not legally constitute an inducement to hand in prescriptions.

Boots defended its offer as "rewarding loyalty" and Tesco highlighted that other pharmacies offered incentives to use their repeat prescription schemes, such as free delivery.

The claims were rejected by IPF chair Fin McCaul, who argued that the lure of reward points prevented independents and multiples from competing on a level playing field. "It's symptomatic of the larger groups exerting their muscle power to try to induce patients to provide a pharmaceutical service," he told C+D.

"Sometimes these inducements are being marketed heavily to try to recruit patients and encourage them to leave their normal pharmacy."

Law firm Charles Russell revealed that it had received a rise in enquiries about the legalities of offering loyalty points for sign-up to repeat prescription schemes. But it stressed that the offers did not go against the NHS code of practice, which forbids any inducement to provide a pharmaceutical service, as patients could sign up to a repeat prescription service and choose not to use it.

"We've always been fairly comfortable with [the practice] as long as the signing up to the collection and delivery service isn't linked in any way to the handing in of a prescription," Charles Russell partner Noel Wardle told C+D.

Boots offers Advantage Card points to customers who sign up to its service in England and Wales, and stressed that the technique offered value to customers. "[We] believe that recognising loyalty is just one way we give our customers really good value across a combination of products to meet their health and beauty needs," a spokesperson said.

Tesco does not currently offer Clubcard points for sign-up to its repeat prescription service, but the supermarket confirmed it did use them "occasionally". "Many pharmacies offer free delivery, so it's just an incentive of a different type," said Tesco superintendent Adrian Price.

What do you think of reward points for signing up to repeat prescriptions?

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Hisham Al-Obaidi, Academic pharmacist

I think the Pharmacy system in the UK needs major reformation, the government should be involved. Nationalisation would be a step forward and treating pharmacies as part of the NHS rather than contractors would save so much NHS resources and definitely would improve the health system.

Indrakumar ( Andy) Bakhai, Other pharmacist

When I was practising, I had always adopted the philosophy of " Best man wins" There will always be Apples on the table for every one and for some , .....crumbs on the floor from the crumble...... so just " Don' t grimble...Have a " Healthy Professional Attitude"
though, I express concern and deplore if any promotion that declares to say " Leave your Normal Pharmacy"...... this I believe does not reflect a " Professional" way forward for the Pharmacy Profession.

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Clearly there appears to be an area of concern with respect to points and bargains. Equally, what is better hidden is the substantive amount of QoF money given to GPs by the NHS. For example, flu vaccinations at 70%, PPI prescribing at 90% etc.

On balance, GPs are never shy of their easily gained QoF cash andso pharmacy does not have that public sector cash cow and leverage. Equitably in a reductionist theory, therefore, it could be argued that bonus points and other deals in the private sector consumer incentives are quite ethical.

Then again who knows...x

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

This is just one more method of trying to lure patients to use the multiples - in the same way that 3 for 2 or BOGOF operate. While I am unhappy that Boots are able to offer this while I cannot, at the end of the day it is Boots using a percieved benefit to try to give them a competative edge. My concerns about it (and 3 for 2 on medicines) are that it undermines the image of Pharmacy, in just the same way that "scruffy pharmacists" do.
There have been many occassions when Boots or one of the other multiples have tried to push the boundary on what is acceptable, ethically and professionally. When it works, we all benefit. When it doesn't, it usually disappears after a while.
Independants, (small and medium) have many advantages ahead of multiples, most notably knowing your patients! Giving them a personalised service (often seen as a dirty word these days) is a great way to engender loyalty. Do my customers shop around for the best prices on things I sell? Of course they do but many still come to us because they like the service and the atmosphere.
So stop whining and step up!

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

Pharmacy is already a joke, and I'm actually quite embarrassed to be one at times. Our local surgeries are now stopping us from ordering for patients, which is ridiculous as some are housebound and registered to surgeries some miles away from home. The 100 hr cowboys have turned the whole system into a schoolboys' playground, and the results are affecting the patients directly!
Back to the article ( oops, sorry!), Tesco and Boots are allowed to get away with too much!

Rehan nawaz, Superintendent

With such 'glass half empty' views on pharmacy, I'm sure it won't be a loss if you do leave the profession. It's the '100hr cowboys' that are ensuring job security for some pharmacists. It takes alot of bottle to set up any new business, which is missing from many pharmacists.

Rehan nawaz, Superintendent

Pharmacists shouldn't question and complain, but should offer something better than reward points......

Brendan Kilgallon, Locum pharmacist

Pharmacists have the right to free speech for a start! And yes, if needed we should complain about poor practice. Giving out points cheapens pharmacy. We should be valued on our ability to look after patients and customers, not on providing lures.

Adam Kerrigan, Non healthcare professional

Plus it reinforces the "shopkeeper" perceptions about pharmacists. Combine that with self-selection P meds and you'll start to see people actually complaining when a pharmacist actually intervenes with a sale.

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