MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

David Needleman, a pharmacist at Wilkinson Chemist in Barnet, UK, has published a brilliant article explaining that complementary medicine such as homeopathy, nutrition and aromatherapy could make smaller pharmacies “more viable and competitive”, as they look to “survive” the funding cuts across England. In doing so, he made it clear that retail pharmacists are shop-keepers, not healthcare professionals, as previously assumed.

“We need to explore other ways of maintaining profitability. One of these is to enter profitable niche markets”. Mr Needleman – who is also joint principal of The School of Complementary Medicine (TSOCM) – helped set up a homeopathic dispensary in a North London pharmacy while studying for his qualification in 1987. “Within a year, the various homeopathic remedies, various other nutritional supplements and herbal medicines we stocked accounted for nearly 40% of the pharmacy’s turnover, with a considerably higher margin. This 40% turnover was the difference between bankruptcy and survival [of this pharmacy],” he added.

Mr Needleman and his colleague at TSOCM have designed a two-year “comprehensive complementary medicines” course for pharmacists and technicians, which will launch at the London School of Pharmacy in September. “It is going to cover nutrition, homeopathy, herbal medicine, flower remedies, aromatherapy and Chinese medicines and will lead to a [certificate] for pharmacists to become registered with a professional body,” Mr Needleman said. He said “it is early days” but “everyone I have spoken to has shown an interest” in the training. Mr Needleman is now looking to expand the offer to pharmacists across the country, “possibly Manchester next”.

Mr Needleman said he reacted with “sadness” to the news that some clinical commissioning groups (CCG) plan to scrap homeopathy funding. “Homeopathy has been under a lot of threat and a lot of pressure for some considerable time. It is going to disenfranchise thousands of people who can’t afford to pay. When you think that between six and 10 million people a year use complementary medicines…it is rather a large chunk of business that pharmacies are missing out on. There are only about six dedicated homeopathic pharmacies in the country, but there are a number of pharmacies that will dispense remedies and give advice. Anything that can take us away from NHS dispensing has got to be useful for the survival of community pharmacy,” he added. A full copy of Mr Needleman’s letter can be found here.  

I want to personally thank Mr Needleman for this statement. It avoids all the BS pharmacists tend to unpack when asked about homeopathy or other bogus treatments they sell. I agree entirely with Needleman, no need to beat about the bush! Pharmacists who sell homeopathic remedies do so mostly to make money, they are essentially shop-keepers. I find it easier to deal with the truth – even though it may be slightly embarrassing for the profession of pharmacists – than with the excuses pharmacists usually provide when asked why they sell disproven nonsense to the unsuspecting public. I guess, I prefer a slight embarrassment to a painfully big one.

The downside of the behaviour of the shop-keepers in the pharmacist profession is, of course, that they violate their own code of ethics. But who cares about ethics? Who cares about responsibly advising patients on the best therapy for their conditions? Who cares about evidence? The aim of the game is not about niceties, it is about saving the pharmacists’ income!!!

In its ‘quick guide’ to homeopathy, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said it “does not endorse homeopathy as a form of treatment because there is no scientific basis for homeopathy nor any evidence to support the clinical efficacy of homeopathic products beyond a placebo effect”.

10 Responses to Refreshingly ‘honest’ words from a pharmacist: ‘Homeopathy could be pharmacy’s saviour’

  • Is there a difference between a healthcare professional who claims to be a ‘pharmacist and homeopath’ and a ‘charlatan’?

  • What Needleman fails to point out in his letter and also on the website of the “school” is that there are legal problems aplenty with the supply of unlicensed medicines to pharmacies. There are also problems with prescribing them – pretty much forbidden unless qualified as an independent prescriber.

    As the majority of homeopathic medicines are unlicensed medicines, sticking to the law would mean only those 10s of registered homeopathic medicines could be prescribed.

    Advertising of homeopathic services is problematic to say the least.

  • Well, choose your poison.
    If a pharmacist would be just a willing helper, selling you something you really and directly asked for.
    But they steer you there in conversation and are trying to sell you anything they are allowed to.
    Why are those ‘remedies’ not only restricted to selling in a pharmacy but even _allowed_ to be sold in a pharmacy, their place has to be on the beggar’s shelf at the check-out of supermarkets and in old housewives reenactment sheds at fairs.
    That ‘pharmacist and homeopath’ got some people going.
    You have a very hard time finding a pharmacy in Germany not advertising Bachblüten, Schüßlersalze and the like in their shop-windows most prominently with great splendor and huge posters.
    To promote those who would abstain from this fraud, they were offered a website to make them easier to find.
    If their would be a few exceptions, since 2013 they are all listed here:
    http://www.homoeopathiefreie-apotheke.de/finden.php

    Please scroll that list to the very end. That shouldn’t take you very long.
    Then how about that: In Germany, every pharmacist is a charlatan?
    Again, free market ideology didn’t solve anything but made it worse.
    (To be fair, another unscientific but hopeful poll got a whopping 18% of pharmacists that denied to promote proven bogus: https://www.deutsche-apotheker-zeitung.de/news/artikel/2015/08/03/Nur-wenige-Homoopathie-Verweigerer)

    And since doctors and hospitals are now forced to be profitable, do you count them as the shops they are as well?

  • This issue cuts to the quick in Scotland, where the Government has introduced an “NHS Minor Ailment Service”. To relieve pressure on GPs’ workloads, patients with ‘minor ailments’ (you can see a list here) are supposed to obtain advice and appropriate medication in a pharmacy.

    My local pharmacy advertises ‘complimentary [sic] medicines’ as part of its service (“At xxxx Pharmacy we believe in patient choice – we have long championed the use of Complimentary Medicines as part of your ongoing health journey.”) Yet they tried to sign me up formally as a recipient of their minor ailment service. The potential for conflicts of ethical, medical and social interest are absurd. Does the pharmacist perhaps use a pendulum to diagnose minor ailments? Tarot cards?

    I fully agree with Richard Rawlins: pharmacists who promote complementary and alternative medicine (whether or not spelt correctly) are indistinguishable from charlatans. Yet the Scottish government expects them to take on part of the consultative function of the NHS?! The mind boggles.

  • Quite a few dentists have already adopted this type of ploy, in the guise of ‘holistic dentistry’.
    Plenty of vets do likewise, offering the likes of homeopathic potions and aromatherapy for dogs and cats.
    There’s no shortage of charlatans it seems, especially where there’s a desire to maintain business income.

  • I have been thinking and maybe this is where homeopathic “recreational” drugs could be useful. Naloxone 300C wouldn’t do any harm, might stop the pharmacist going bust and might even avoid the buyer buying real opiates. Or would there be a potential nocebo effect?

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