Public sees pharmacists as ‘pretend doctors,’ says broadcaster

Disparaging remarks about pharmacists have triggered a flood of more than 2,300 complaints to the UKs communications regulator

ITV’s This Morning featured a segment titled “Should chemists tell their customers they are fat?”

The segment was in response to the announcement that new NHS guidelines would encourage pharmacists to talk to certain patients about lifestyle changes to reduce obesity,

These interventions, recommended in a new quality standard by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), include suggestions such as reducing their alcohol intake and other unhealthy behaviours.

“Community pharmacists engage every day with people who buy over-the-counter medicines, collect prescriptions or ask for advice,” Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, told outlets such as Wales Online.

“This is a vital opportunity to support people to maintain good health but also signpost them to other health services.”

ITV’s segment on the recommendation featured journalist and broadcaster Sam Delany, who said that he was “all for” doctors having such discussions with patients, but that a pharmacy was a “very public place”.

 You could be in Boots. It could be very crowded in there and suddenly you are being called fat, by a chemist, who, I think, society generally, rightly or wrongly, don’t have much respect anyway because we think they are pretend doctors a lot of the time,” Pharmacy Business reports.

Also speaking was broadcaster and journalist Vanessa Feltz, who said she would be happy to ask a pharmacist for general advice, but was worried that she would be “ambushed by some pharmacist” and told she was fat while attempting to pick out nail polish.

Mr Delaney responded that such an intervention would make him “absolutely livid” and that “I’d say, listen, you are a chemist, all you do is, you go and collect the box of pills that I have been given as prescription for, from behind your shelf. Which is what they do don’t they?”

Host Eammon Holmes also remarked that “Lots of shopkeepers have things to sell. That’s the thing. You always think, it’s just a way of them shifting products from the shelves.”

Standing up for pharmacy was co-host Ruth Langsford, who pointed out that there was “something in” the recommendation and that pharmacies have private rooms to discuss sensitive matters.

The segment prompted more than 2,300 complaints to Ofcom, the communications regulator, as well as a social media campaign.

According to the Pharmaceutical Journal, this could make it one of the top 10 most complained about shows in the last decade.

Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said that the comments were “extremely disappointing and concerning”.

“Pharmacists have a huge amount to offer the NHS and we work extensively across the NHS,” she said.

“Pharmacists, including myself, were infuriated by the comments made denigrating a profession which on a daily basis saves people’s lives.

“Given that many describe the NHS as being at breaking point, particularly with growing A&E waiting times and staffing shortages, we should be recognising and promoting the vital role pharmacists play in providing healthcare and supporting patients.  We ourselves have taken action.

“We’ve been in touch with ITV who have now apologised, stating ‘contributors often express their personal or light-hearted views, which do not always reflect the views of This Morning. Referring to this specific topic we apologise if there was any offence caused.’ 

“We are pursuing opportunities with them to profile the profession on This Morning

“We have contacted journalist Sam Delaney and offered him a visit to a pharmacy to see at first-hand what hard-working pharmacists do on a daily basis. We have also contacted journalist Vanessa Feltz to discuss opportunities to inform her radio listeners about the services pharmacists provide.”

The Society has since said on Twitter that it has been talking with the station and to “watch this space”.

Johnathan Laird, a contributor to Pharmacy in Practice and member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Scottish board, took to social media to address the issue.

He was not short of takers…

Naimah Callachand, pharmacist and clinical editor of Chemist + Druggist, penned a piece for the publication wondering if something positive could come from the incident.

While she found Mr Delaney’s remarks “maddening,” and pharmacists “have been left feeling frustrated and undervalued,” she said that the debate was an opportunity to promote pharmacists’ role and attempt to undermine the “stubborn misconceptions” which persist about the profession,

“We have been wrongly perceived as ‘glorified shop keepers’, when in actual fact there are many strings to the pharmacy bow that the general public may not even be aware of,” she wrote.

“The uproar about the This Morning segment has already led to a #whatwedoinpharmacy Twitter campaign, and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has been invited on this week to counter-balance the initial comments.

“Hopefully this is the start of a change in the perception of the role of pharmacists, and we can finally put these misconceptions of pharmacists and their clinical skills to bed once and for all.”

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