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Morrisons defends its pharmacist over Welsh language row

Morrisons supermarket has defended one of its pharmacists following a protest outside one of its stores in north Wales. A crowd gathered outside Morrisons in Bangor last weekend (11 January 2014) after a prescription written partly in Welsh resulted in a delay to the treatment of a 15-month-old child who had been prescribed cefaclor and prednisolone. Facebook messages written by the child’s father and media reports of the incident suggest that the delay resulted in the child being admitted to hospital.

Guy Mason, head of corporate affairs at Morrisons, told PJ Online that the supermarket stood by the actions of the pharmacist involved and said that the incident had been misrepresented.

“The customer went to a different pharmacy first, and they did not carry this [antibiotic]. We were asked by that store during a phone call to help by supplying the medicine instead,” the supermarket told PJ Online.

“Our pharmacist was told during this phone conversation that it was half in Welsh and half in English. Without seeing the original prescription, he could not judge whether he could translate it, so he asked for a translation to ensure he could be clear of the exact instructions.

“This translation followed within approximately two hours of the customer arriving at the first pharmacy — by fax to us. When the customer arrived at our store (for the first time) the medicine was dispensed as prescribed. At no stage did we turn the customer away, or refuse to dispense the prescription,” the company explained.

Mr Mason added that the supermarket supports the use of the Welsh language and said it was disappointed at how the incident had been reported by the local and national press.

A prescription can be written in any language

Berwyn Owen, clinical director for pharmacy and medicines management at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, told PJ Online that Welsh prescriptions should be written in a way that allows them to be dispensed either side of the border. “While prescription forms can be bilingual, in order to ensure the safety of patients and the public, one of the languages must be English.”

He pointed out, however, that neither the 1968 Medicines Act nor the 2012 Human Medicines Regulatory Act specifically stipulate that prescriptions need to be written in English. Furthermore, he added, pharmacists are entitled to dispense prescriptions from other European Economic Area countries, which are unlikely to be written in English. That said, he added: “The pharmacist must understand the directions on the prescription before dispensing.”

Wing Tang, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s support team, said: “We know that pharmacists and their teams deal with problems daily and do all that they reasonably can to help patients with their medicines. We expect pharmacists to put the overall welfare of their patient first. A prescription can be written in any language or have other problems — how the pharmacist deals with it is key.”

The General Pharmaceutical Council issued the following advice: “Pharmacists have a responsibility to be proactive in communicating with both their patients and the prescribers to get all of the information they require.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11132886

Readers' comments (4)

  • Nowhere, am i seeing anyone asking the Dr WHY he wrote it all in welsh?! It's all the blame heaped on the pharmacist and pharmacy. Maybe the placard and outraged brigade should take their protest down the road to the surgery!

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  • The public is too quick to blame pharmacists. Can pharmacists produce dispensing labels in any language they want? These same parents would have blamed the pharmacist if he/she gave the wrong directions or dose of the medicines prescribed. No responsible pharmacist will dispense a prescription they are not sure of or do not fully understand and this is in the interest of patients (the General pharmaceutical council should know that!).


    Well done Morrisons for standing by your pharmacists, pharmacy practice is becoming too lonely. Apart from the PDA who actually defends employee pharmacists these days, everybody wants to pin us down when we work like horses to help patients, very sad.  

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  • so we have to be multilingual to work in a shop now do we. there are so many pharmacies around if you cannot understand the language pass it on to someone else or get it rewritten in english.


    well done Morrisons  Man  for getting it translated into the universal language in the british isles.

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  • The BNF has a section on Prescription Writing and this recommends that "..directions should preferably be in English without abreviation, ..."

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  • Protesters outside Morrisons supermarket in Bangor, north Wales

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