It has been reported that pharmacies in New Zealand continue to ignore a code of ethics that requires them to inform customers, if a product has no evidence of efficacy. The code of ethics states: “Pharmacists must advise patients when scientific support for treatment is lacking.”
Eight Auckland pharmacies were visited to enquire about a homeopathic product for sale. Pharmacy staff were asked what they knew about a homeopathic product on their shelves and if it worked. All failed to share information about the lack of scientific evidence showing the product works. Instead, they claimed that homeopathic solution of arnica sold as a treatment for injuries, bruising and post-surgery trauma “works really, really well”, was “awesome” and could also cure headaches. One salesperson checked with the pharmacist whether the product was suitable for swelling post-surgery and was told it was fine as long as no other medication was being taken at the same time.
There is no credible evidence the highly diluted homeopathic remedies sold by pharmacists work better than a placebo. Homeopathy’s effectiveness has been rejected by many scientists and by large government reviews conducted in the UK, Australia and Europe.
Even if a staff member personally believes a homeopathic product works, guidelines referenced by the code of ethics say this should not sway the information given to the customer: “Patients must be made aware of the likely effectiveness of a given therapy according to recognised peer-reviewed medical publications, in spite of your personal beliefs.”
Shortly after the code was changed in March 2018, Newsroom performed the same secret shopper experiment at four pharmacies and found the new rule was not followed. Eighteen months on, nothing has improved.
The chair of the consumer advocate group the ‘Society for Science Based Healthcare’, Mark Hanna, said there was no excuse for pharmacies to sell this kind of thing without warning. “Pharmacists should know better. Full stop. They should not be misleading their patients, they should not be letting their staff mislead their patients. If they don’t know, that’s incompetence. I would expect to be given reasonable, evidence-based advice, possibly some different options with the reason why I might choose one over the other. I wouldn’t expect to be misled and sold something that wouldn’t work.
Asked why the code was not being followed a spokesperson of the NZ pharmacists said a reminder of the code of ethics had been sent to pharmacies in June. It was recommended all staff be made aware of the code: “We encourage you to share this protocol with your entire team – even though it is a protocol for pharmacists, the reasoning also extends to other staff members in the pharmacy and it is important that all staff ensure that the patient has been provided with sufficient information to make an informed choice.”
By Jove, we have discussed this issue often enough. If you are interested, here are a few of my more recent posts on this subject:
- “Pharmacists should not sell or dispense homeopathic products”
- German pharmacists fail their customers when advising them on homeopathy
- Pharmacists put themselves at risk by selling homeopathic remedies
- Pro and Contra: should UK community pharmacists sell homeopathic remedies?
- Pharmacists’ responsibilities vis a vis alternative medicine: the violation of healthcare ethics continues.
- It is “disappointing that some pharmacists are still stocking homeopathy products”
- Pharmacists: to sell quackery means you are quacks – or have I got that wrong?
- Pharmacists must use their professional judgement to prevent the supply of homeopathic remedies
But pharmacists seem utterly reluctant to change – in NZ or elsewhere. Why? Could it have something to do with money?
If doctors violate their code of ethics, they face being reprimanded by their professional body. It is high time that the same happens with pharmacists, I feel.