Layer 1

'Pharmacy's role in Channel 4 stolen medicines exposé overplayed'

"The decision to implicate community pharmacies without evidence was, in my view, irresponsible"
"The decision to implicate community pharmacies without evidence was, in my view, irresponsible"

Last night’s Channel 4 show uncovered a tale of organised crime and diverted medicines, but C+D digital reporter Eliza Slawther disputes its implications for Lloydspharmacy

Last night (June 17) saw the safety of prescription drugs being brought into question by Channel 4’s Dispatches: How safe are your medicines? documentary, which investigated how medicines stolen by criminals linked to the Italian Mafia ended up in the NHS supply chain.

Between 2011 and 2014, thousands of medicines were stolen from Italian hospitals and lorries by criminal gangs. These medicines then made their way back into the supply chain through bogus companies selling them to legitimate wholesalers, including one in the UK.

While it’s a fascinating story, and one which should certainly highlight the importance of policing the complex way in which medicines make their way from manufacturer to wholesaler – and ultimately pharmacies – the decision to implicate community pharmacies without evidence was, in my view, irresponsible scaremongering.

The “largest purchaser”

Trident Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of wholesaler AAH, had purchased some of the stolen medicines, according to the programme. During the segment in which Lloydspharmacy was mentioned, reporter Antony Barnett stated that Trident was “by far the largest purchaser of these falsified drugs”, before explaining that “Trident is owned by the US firm McKesson, [which] runs one of Britain’s best-known high street chemists”.

At this point, a Lloydspharmacy advert began to play, while Mr Barnett’s voiceover continued to explain that Lloydspharmacy and Trident are owned by McKesson. However, the programme did not prove that illegitimate medicines were ever dispensed by a Lloydspharmacy branch. I would argue that the placement of the multiple's advert set a sinister and provocative tone, which unfairly targeted the chain.

This visual cue would have proved extremely worrisome to me as a viewer without any specialist knowledge of the community pharmacy sector, as it gave a strong implication that Lloydspharmacy had dispensed stolen prescription drugs, which were unsafe.

MHRA chief executive Ian Hudson told C+D yesterday: “It is important to note these were legitimate medicines...and the risk to the patients was very low”. Even more importantly, he added that “there is no evidence any of these medicines made it to patients”.

Mr Hudson stressed that the EU Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) is now in effect. As of February 2019, all medicines in the UK carry a unique barcode and “additional safety features”, which “allow verification of the authenticity of prescription-only medications”, Mr Hudson added.

FMD ignored

Recognising past errors is crucial to making progress in medicines safety, but the documentary failed to highlight the new measures that have already been brought in to ensure that medicines can be traced through the system.

I could imagine that as a patient this information is something which would have reassured me that measures have been taken to ensure the supply chain is as watertight as it can be. Failing to do this may have had the effect of causing patients to stop taking medication, or to lose trust in their pharmacist. Surely, the danger to the public this poses is far greater than that of medicines stolen five years ago?

McKesson expressed its disappointment to C+D at the failure of Dispatches to focus more on the significant change that the FMD has introduced, as medicines can now be tracked by barcode. This would have “helped put patients’ minds at rest about medicines safety”, it added.

The documentary uncovered holes in the medicine supply chain, as well as highlighting how trading of prescription drugs works across the country. But it ultimately risked insinuating that Lloydspharmacy are failing to put patient safety first, without solid evidence to prove it.

Dispatches: How Safe Are Your Medicines? aired on Channel 4 at 8pm on June 17. Catch up on 4OD.

Eliza Slawther is a digital reporter at C+D. Email her at [email protected] or contact her on Twitter @CandDEliza

What did you make of the Dispatches episode?

Aldosterone antagonist, Locum pharmacist

"McKesson expressed its disappointment to C+D at the failure of Dispatches to focus more on the significant change that the FMD has introduced, as medicines can now be tracked by barcode"

Ermmmm FMD has had alot of false alerts, its hardly been reliable

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Not to mention the vast majority of pharmacies do not use it in my experience. I've visited at least 6 different chains and companies across a wide geographical area. None of them.

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

True - a certain largish chain (DL) are not going to be able to roll out FMD into the majority of their stores until January 2020.

I have only worked in one shop recently that is even attempting to comply with FMD.


Really? Wow, Superintendent Pharmacist

Personally I am not that bothered that Lloyds we implicated... that is their battle to fight. 

I am not surprised that such a significant detail has been left out by the BBC once again. 

I have personally met and am aware the the BBC health editor is well informed on pharmacy matters, it would seem outrageous that they would not discuss the contents of this program or have him review it before broadcast... but that is what we have come to expect from this organisation unfortunately. 

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

seriously! the bbc health editor knows ANYTHING about Pharmacy? I thought he spent his entire life brown nosing GPs and Nurses. His articles certainly never display it and when Pharmacy is mentioned its certain to be wrong

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Is Channel 4 part of BBC ?? 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Nope, but they are both owned by the Government. BBC via Royal Charter, and Channel 4 via UK Government Investments which is a company also owned by the Government.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

The programme was more of misguiding and sensation seeking one than a real fact finding one. But, is Lloyds not one of those who failed to implement FMD in their stores well after the deadline??

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Can confirm they have very expensive looking monitors with a barcode scanner on them, that are currently collecting a lot of dust and taking up valuable dispensing bench space from my experience of the several stores that I have seen.

Dodo pharmacist, Community pharmacist

lloyds are still not doing FMD their software does not work


Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

Very surprised FMD wasn’t mentioned. Wasn’t really thorough investigative journalism, more like sensationalism. 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Unfortunately, sensationalism seems to be more popular than investigative journalism even though I would agree with you that the later is far more important.

Nexium Forever, Academic pharmacist

Also agree. A well written article Eliza... factual, professional and highlighting the irresponsible journalism that aired last night in what ultimately was a pretty shoddy programme that served nobody well.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Agree completely with this article.

Job of the week

Support Pharmacist
Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Heartl
up to £47,500 dependent on hours (30-40 hours flexible)