Is the public losing trust in pharmacists?

A leading doctor claims that trust in pharmacists is eroding – thanks to their sales of complementary medicines

Pharmacy stakeholders have hit back at comments from Dr Harry Nespolon, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, over the weekend which claimed Australians are losing trust in pharmacists.

“The trust in pharmacists I think is beginning to fall away,” Dr Nespolon told Fairfax Media’s Liam Mannix.

“Just talking to my patients, more and more of them just see them as salesmen. The sounds are just getting louder as the pharmacies look more and more like a supermarket.”

The article criticised pharmacies as “shopfronts for homoeopathy, vitamins and non-evidence-based remedies” and claimed that a number of stakeholders, pharmacists included, considered this to be “trashing” the reputation of the sector.

It quoted a 2017 submission from the RACGP to the Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation (often referred to as the King Review) as well as a Choice “shadow-shop” of pharmacies, which also took place in 2017.

Representatives of the PSA and Pharmacy Guild both told the AJP that Dr Nespolon is wrong about trust in pharmacists.

“Firstly, there’s no evidence that the public is losing trust in pharmacists,” said PSA national president Dr Chris Freeman, who was also quoted in the Fairfax article, where he said that pharmacists have a duty of care in helping patients make informed decisions about the medicines, including CMs, that they take.

“Pharmacists remain one of the most trusted professions whenever any polls are published,” Dr Freeman said.

“What the public clearly is desiring is more from their pharmacist, and this is where we have continually said we need to break down the barriers and impediments that prevent pharmacists from doing more.

“This is where the public and pharmacists are in absolute alignment: consumers want pharmacists to do more, pharmacists want to be able to do more, and we just need government to see that it ticks all the boxes for pharmacists to do more.

“In the view of the Society, it’s pretty clear that the public isn’t losing confidence in pharmacists.

“We believe a perfect example of this is how consumers have embraced pharmacist-led vaccination. They can see that it is safe, it’s accessible and it improves the health of the public. We believe the same will happen with collaborative prescribing.

“When we release the shackles around the pharmacy profession, we show the impact that a pharmacist can have on healthcare.”

Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone expressed disappointment in Dr Nespolon’s comments and urged him to collaborate with the profession, instead of attacking it.

“The repeated attacks by Dr Harry Nespolon on the credibility and standing of community pharmacy are flawed, without basis and out of step with the strong sentiment that the Australian public have long had and continue to have for our profession,” Mr Tassone told the AJP.

“Dr Nespolon has form and is parading his own negative views of our profession as those of the public.  Whenever he is ready to have a level of mutual respect for our profession to collaborate for patient benefit -then a worthwhile discussion can be had. 

“In the meantime, his ongoing unfounded criticism of community pharmacy says a whole lot more about him than anybody or anything else.”

He said that the Pharmacy Guild believes it is essential that consumers have access to objective, informed advice about complementary medicines; and that all health professionals have immediate access to product-specific, evidence-based information about them.

The Guild acknowledges the widespread use of complementary medicines by the Australian population, he said.

“A range of complementary medicines are available through most community pharmacies in Australia, where pharmacists and pharmacy staff play an important role in providing advice to consumers about these products,” Mr Tassone said.

“Pharmacists, as health professionals, have a duty of care to be aware of available clinical evidence that supports the therapeutic and marketing claims made about all products sold in their pharmacies.

“Therefore, pharmacists should consider the efficacy and safety of complementary medicines sold within their pharmacy, using an evidence-based approach and utilising available clinical/traditional-use information.

“The Guild also acknowledges that it is the decision of individual pharmacy proprietors to stock a range of complementary medicines to meet customer needs. In doing so, consumers have access to trained pharmacy staff who are aware of the different levels of evidence for the complementary products available from the pharmacy and who can discuss health needs, advise and assist them in making an informed decision before purchasing the products.

“Likewise, Guild members should be mindful of their professional responsibility and the credibility that is conveyed to consumers by the fact that a pharmacy stocks particular complementary products.”

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  1. Apotheke

    Lets see doctors never ever use medical treatments even surgeries that are not 100% evidence based right! I for one can think of a few examples. Insulin shock therapy & ECT for depression neither of which has any evidence base, arthroscopic treatment of knee pain & menisceal tears shown to have zero benefit many years later in post hoc studies and unproven weight loss remedies pushed by the medical profession. I am sure you can think of others. It is not only Pharmacists who need to look after their own bottom line doctors too need to earn an income. We are after all small business people though we are supposed to adhere to a code of ethics.I thought that part of that professional code included not attacking and disparaging members of other health professions. Maybe doctors consider themselves not bound by professional courtesy and ethics after all they are at the top of the medical tree and many think that the rules don’t apply to them.

  2. luis trapaga

    Firstly, Dr Nespolon’s comments are based on anecdotes, they have no objective validity. They rely on an old ploy, which is to group together what you don’t like and apply the criteria “lack of evidence base” and there you have it, a sound argument. The comment below by Apotheke touches on the lack of evidence base for many medical practices.
    The evidence for vitamin usage is legion, and many medical practitioners have embraced their use. Does Dr Nespolon regard these colleagues of his as quacks? There is also no shortage of recent research on homeopathy demonstrating positive outcomes. The evidence for homeopathy is vexed with an endemic bias within the Australian scientific community, to the extent that the recent report by the NHMRC is currently before the Commonwealth Ombudsman on grounds of malfeasance. Surely until there is a definitive and credible report by the Australian government it is unethical and misleading to publicly lambast homeopathy. As well, homeopathy is practiced by many doctors and specialists, within hospitals, community practices and in private practice throughout the world. Does Dr Nespolon regard these practitioners deluded?
    Luis Trapaga

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      Let’s not conflate Dr Nespolon’s comments about pharmacists with the credibility of pharmacists. Let’s also not conflate his comments about homeopathy with the credibility of pharmacists. Neither are accurate.

      Dr Nespolon is wrong about pharmacists, but right about homeopathy.

      Luis, I would point out that you criticised Dr Nespolon for using anecdotes in his criticism of pharmacists (a valid criticism) then used anecdotes to justify the use of homeopathy.

  3. Peter Allen

    In our hearts we agree with the general point that pharmacies –SOME OF US– make most of our money selling questionable remedies.

  4. Nicholas Logan

    What do you have to do to become a “leading” doctor these days?

  5. Anonymous

    The opinion of one leading doctor has dictated the heading of the article while it took the whole article to argue against that same idea suggested by the heading of the article.
    What message is conveyed here?
    The medical profession dominates the health care system and so will it be until the pharmacy undergraduate curriculum is upgraded to contain more extensive clinical contents and pharmacy owners stop doing companion sales and force pharmacists to make up a certain number of clinical interventions daily.

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