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Pharmacy2U told to scrap adverts with 'unrealistic' £300m saving claim

Pharmacy2U: Online management of medicines could be better for patients and the NHS

The advertising watchdog has told Pharmacy2U to cease its adverts making claims about saving the NHS £300 million, as they are “not currently realistic”.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 24 complaints from the public and one from the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) in relation to two TV adverts and one tweet in November and December 2017, in which Pharmacy2U claimed patients managing their repeat prescriptions online could save the health service “over £300m a year on prescription costs”, making it “better for the NHS”.

Pharmacy2U told the ASA that it had substantiated this claim to the NHS, using publically available information from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC). Using this data projected an annual saving if all pharmacies charged the NHS the same rate as Pharmacy2U, the company added.

“Pharmacy2U said the NHS made savings when buying medicines through Pharmacy2U because their remuneration was based on being a single premise pharmacy,” the ASA said in its ruling published this morning (July 18).

“They explained that some of the fees and income streams referenced in the calculation were based on the number of physical premises through which pharmacies operated, rather than the total volume of medicines dispensed or the overall size of the pharmacy as a corporate entity.”

Pharmacy2U also provided a statement supporting the £300m saving claim from “an individual who was previously in a senior leadership role with the Department of Health and Social Care and was currently an advisory consultant for clients including Pharmacy2U”, the ASA continued.

Clearcast – the non-governmental organisation which pre-approves most British television advertising – said it had approved the £300m claim based on the evidence submitted by Pharmacy2U and its assurance that this was based on the latest reimbursement data.

ASA upholds complaints

However, the ASA said it considered that consumers would be “likely to interpret the references to ‘savings of over £300m a year’ to mean it was currently realistic that the NHS would save £300m or more if a significant proportion of the population switched from paper to online repeat prescription services”.

“The statement ‘it’s time to go online’ in the ads was followed by the claim ‘better for the NHS’, and we considered that consumers would therefore see that claim as relating to the £300m savings claim,” the ASA said.

“Although we recognised that the UK healthcare sector [is] undergoing change and that online repeat prescription services had the capacity to save the NHS money, we considered that Pharmacy2U’s calculation, based on the annual savings if all pharmacies were paid the same rate as Pharmacy2U, was not currently a realistic or likely scenario.”

While the ASA acknowledged that Pharmacy2U’s location in a single premises “has the capacity to save the NHS money”, it pointed out that the “overwhelming majority (99%) of NHS prescriptions” are still dispensed by high street pharmacies.

“Pharmacy2U’s projected annual savings was based on a wholly different scenario, whereby the NHS paid all other pharmacies the same rate as Pharmacy2U, and we considered that scenario would be dependent on a large number of factors and changes taking place in the UK.”

The ASA therefore ruled that the adverts “must not appear again in their current form”.

It added that two other issues with Pharmacy2U’s adverts had been raised by complainants, but these had been resolved informally “after the advertiser agreed to amend their advertising”.

Pharmacy2U: Advert “essence” still stands

Responding to the ruling, Pharmacy2U said it is “disappointed that the ASA has decided to uphold a complaint specific to the way the [£300m] saving was presented in our advert, which had been…previously approved by the NHS”.

“We will work with the ASA to amend the presentation of the cost saving, but the essence of the advertising – that online management of medicines could be better for patients and the NHS – remains,” it stressed.

NPA’s position “vindicated”

The NPA said: “The ASA ruling is a clear vindication of [the organisation’s] position.

“People’s choices about where to obtain their NHS medicines ought not to be skewed by misleading and unsubstantiated claims. Neither should local community pharmacies be put at a disadvantage by such advertisements,” it added.

“We welcome the ASA’s verdict, which acknowledges our concerns.”

C+D revealed yesterday (July 17), that Pharmacy2U is keen to talk to the NPA about whether online pharmacies such as itself could be part of the organisation.

Do you agree with the ASA's ruling?

A England, Manager

Pharmacy 2u are making heavy losses, they are probably at a tipping point, without investment being pumped in, they need more Rx volume. With the public feeling sorry for the state of the NHS, this £300m is a very timely stunt. The conservatives used a similar stunt with Brexit, which turned out to be lie. My fear is is the pharmacy minister, the health minister and other Tory cons thinking straight or did they encourage p2u to do such advertising?

John Cleese, Production & Technical

"...without investment being pumped in..."

They received a £40 million investment in March. Keep up!

Richard MacLeavy, Dispenser Manager/ Dispensing Assistant

My local surgeries strongly dislike P2U as there are a number of occassions in which the item is in transit to the patient but the patient needs the item right away. The surgery is then forced to issue another prescription to be redeemed in a local pharmacy which doubles their prescribing costs. Also if everyone did move their Rx's to P2U it would take the viability out of any local pharmacy but you couldn't imagine them all closing. I predict the NHS would fund pharmacies to open (much like they do on public holidays for example) to maintain local access, and this would be an additional cost burden for the NHS. 

John Cleese, Production & Technical

"...which doubles their prescribing costs" - only if the patient takes twice as much.

Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

"An individual who was previously in a senior leadership role with the Department of Health and Social Care and was currently an advisory consultant for clients including Pharmacy2U" wouldn't happen to be a government/DHSC insider too, would they?

Peter Sainsburys, Community pharmacist

Corruption. What a surprise. How long have pharmacists been calling it out?

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

Glad the ASA investigated. We all know P2U is run by crooks. So much so even the local GPs switch nominations of P2U back to the local pharmacy as they are well aware they dupe mostly vunerable patients into nominating them. 

3 GPs have come to me and switched them back over to local pharmacies!

Female Tech, Pharmacy technician

I didn't think GP surgeries were allowed to do that.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

They are not allowed to do that, without the consent of the patient.

Peter Sainsburys, Community pharmacist

All of pharmacy in the UK is run by crooks! In my opinion.

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist


John Cleese, Production & Technical

Do you have an audit trail for the consent of the patients for the nomination change, A.S.?

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

Why? It wasn't me doing it. Besides P2U sell data which is far worse.

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

I’ll sign up and see what their t&c’s are. 

John Cleese, Production & Technical

So you believe that two wrongs make a right?

Would you nominate, or have you nominated (or recommended someone else to nominate), a patient to a different pharmacy without their explicit consent?

John Cleese, Production & Technical

The silence is deafening...

Mike Hewitson, Superintendent Pharmacist

There is no cost saving! Dispensing cost is irrelevant as their distribution costs are massively higher than a local pharmacy. DHSC/NHSE may cherry pick like that, but it doesn't make it fair or correct to do so. 

They also ought to take into account the additional workload/cost burden for practices and pharmacies sorting out P2U delivieries which have not arrived in time or have been 'lost in transit'. 

Their total prescription volume for the period 1/4/16 - 31/3/17 (their last accounting period): 1,318,751 by their total costs in their published accounts:

£9,198,000 (distribution costs)

£5,009,000 (admininstrative costs)

Total costs for period (excluding exceptional costs) of £14,207,000. 

True cost per item is therefore £14,207,000/1,318,751 = £10.73/item. This is not cheaper than any pharmacy.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

You are assuming the NHS pays for the distribution costs. Do you think they submit an "out of pocket expenses" for a cardboard box and a stamp every time they dispense something?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I do love a good mathematical retort. Well played sir.

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