World news wrapup: 27 February 2020

Walgreens stress-related error deletion claim; Estonia moves one step closer to pharmacist-only ownership; UK pharmacist jailed over intent to supply

US: According to a report in the New York Times, Walgreens pharmacy employees have told of stress, mistakes and directions to ignore some safety protocols – but these complaints “went missing”.

According to reporter Ellen Gabler, the employees told consultants for Walgreens in late 2019 that significant stress and “unreasonable” expectations were causing mistakes when filling scripts; they also said that they had been told to ignore some safeguards.

However when these consultants later revealed their findings to Walgreens, the complaints were not present, she writes.

The Times alleges that Walgreens decision-makers had told the consultants not to include findings which could be damaging to the group.

The story follows reports by the New York Times last month that chains including Walgreens as well as CVS are risking errors due to insufficient staffing and “chaotic” workplaces. However the chains disagreed, with Walgreens telling the Times that pharmacists were aware that “they should never work beyond what they believe is advisable”.

On the consultant report on Walgreens, the Times says that a slide discussing “errors resulting from stress” was removed from the report, and that a high-up decision-maker had ordered the deletion of a bullet point which said employees “sometimes skirted or completely ignored” protocols in order to keep up with company expectations.

A spokesperson for Walgreens said that the chain takes any concerns seriously “to ensure the appropriate parties are aware and working to address them”.


Tallin, Estonia: Estonia’s transitional restriction on pharmacy ownership, which limits it to professional pharmacists, is now to continue.

The Baltic Times reports that a bill of amendments put forward by the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) would have “effectively cancelled” the pharmacy reform, which has been undergoing a transition period set to end in April.

If passed, the bill would have allowed hospital pharmacies to sell medicines directly to Estonians, removed the restriction on pharmacy ownership and allowed pharmacies to buy medicines straight from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Under the reform, the Medicinal Products Act will require that all pharmacies in the country are owned by pharmacists, from 1 April 2020, and will also separate the retail and wholesale supply of medicines.

EKRE had claimed that there were no problems with the previous ownership structure and that the reform could cause closures in rural pharmacies as well as increased prices of medicines to consumers.

Before the Bill was voted down, Karin Alamaa-Aas, chair of the Chamber of Pharmacists, told the Baltic Times that pharmacists needed certainty over ownership.

“There are at present over 200 pharmacist-owned drugstores in Estonia as a result of the pharmacy reform; two large chains have also announced they would join in, and the rest of the pharmacies not meeting requirements are preparing to transition to the system of pharmacist-owned drugstores,” she said.


Birmingham, England: A pharmacist who was caught with £1.2million (AUD$2,362,602) in Class C drugs has been jailed for two years and four months.

Sarfraz Hussain, who ran three Birmingham pharmacies, ordered large amounts of Class C drugs from legitimate wholesalers – despite the fact that none of the pharmacies had a wholesale licence, required to supply medicines in bulk.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency attended one of the pharmacies, but Mr Hussain denied any connection with it.

However, when investigators cross-referenced the medicines Mr Hussain had ordered with the scripts he had filled, it became clear that only a small proportion of the drugs were supplied legitimately.

They found that Mr Hussain had 1,443,036 Class C tablets, including Diazepam, Nitrazepam and Zopiclone in his possession, which he was intending to unlawfully supply. When queried about this, he was “vague” about whether or not he had ordered the medicines.

Mr Hussain pleaded guilty and now, at Birmingham Crown Court, he has been jailed.

“The reason controls are in place are to prevent potentially dangerous drugs being circulated to vulnerable people without any regulation,” said Philip Slough of the Crown Prosecution Service. “In the wrong hands they could put real people at real risk.

“I hope Hussain’s conviction sends a message to other pharmacists and industry professionals, that if they fail to comply with the regulations that are in place to protect the public, we will look to prosecute where possible.
“We will be seeking a confiscation order to make sure that Mr Hussain does not benefit from this criminal and dangerous activity.”


Scotland: The Scottish Parliament has voted to support a bill which would see feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads become available at no cost through channels including pharmacies.

The ABC reports that the Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill has passed its first vote, backed by all parties, though the Bill is likely to go through a series of amendments regarding implementation and cost.

Labour MP Monica Lennon, who put the Bill forward, told the BBC that “access to period products should be a right and available to all”.

She said that these were “not luxury items” and that she was excited about the amount of support the Bill received, including from trade unions, anti-poverty charities and individuals who have experienced “period poverty,” that is, not being able to afford sanitary products when needed.

Under the Bill Scotland will be legally required to ensure products are supplied free for anyone who needs them; likely from community centres, youth clubs and pharmacies.

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