The chemist chain Boots faces a major investigation from the pharmacy watchdog following allegations that it has significantly abused an NHS scheme in order to boost its profits.
Boots is the biggest pharmacy chain in the UK, and is widely utilised by the British people in order to collect medicine.
Reports indicate that the chain has ordered some of its staff to carry out medicine-use reviews for individuals who do not actually require them.
And the General Medical Council has already indicated that it is considering a full-scale investigation into the practice.
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) – the union for pharmacists – has been asked to send the regulator an unpublished survey which more than one in ten Boots pharmacists responded to.
While nothing has been proven yet, the incentive for a major chains such as Boots to artificially inflate the number of medicine-use reviews is quite obvious.
The NHS pays pharmacy £28 for every such review that is conducted.
Indeed, there were 2.38 million reviews across England’s pharmacies in 2014/15, worth £66.5 million, according to official figures.
Although the number of reviews are capped at 400 annually per pharmacy, this could still be a potential area of massive revenue generation if abused inappropriately.
Considering the 2,500 Boots stores in the UK, this could mean that the chain could earn as much as £30 million from the reviews in every calendar year.
And The Guardian newspaper has received an email dated from 2008, in which a senior manager at the chemists urges staff staff to carry out the maximum number of reviews regardless of whether they are actually necessary.
“I personally don’t want colleagues to feel “brow-beaten” but we do need to deliver our targets of 400 MURs per store this financial year for two reasons. Delivering 400 MURs is a measure of Excellent Patient Care. The company can make £28 profit for each MUR, so each one we don’t deliver is a lost £28,” the email stated.
Commenting on the issue, an NHS England spokesman outlined the seriousness of the allegation, both from a financial and health perspective.
“All patients deserve to get the best possible outcome from their medicines. That’s why NHS England is supporting the principles of medicines optimisation, which is a person-centred approach to medicines use, and includes reducing medicines wastage, helping patients to avoid taking unnecessary medicines and improving medication safety.”
A spokeswoman for Boots offered a positive slant on the service that the chain of chemists delivers to the public.
“Delivering the highest level of customer and patient care is our priority and we take any reports of our pharmacists being put under undue pressure very seriously. We have clear professional standards we adhere to and believe and trust in the professional judgement of our pharmacists.”