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Internet pharmacy

Pharmacy2U could face fresh investigation into advertising claims

Exclusive: Pharmacy2U has repeated claims that repeat prescriptions from online pharmacies could save the NHS £300m per year in NHS-funded annual pharmacy costs in a magazine promotional feature.

Pharmacy2U website

Source: Courtesy of Pharmacy2U

The Advertising Standards Authority has already ordered Pharmacy2U not to repeat the July 2018 advertisements and instead provide “adequate substantiation” for the claims being made

An online pharmacy may face an investigation after it repeated claims similar to those which were ruled as “misleading and unsubstantiated” by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

In a promotional feature titled ‘A prescription for the future’, published online in US technology magazine Wired on 21 August 2018, Pharmacy2U repeated its claim that “receiving repeat prescriptions from online pharmacies has the potential to save the NHS £300m per year in NHS-funded annual pharmacy costs”.

In July 2018, the ASA upheld complaints made about Pharmacy2U advertisements that claimed it could save £300m by managing repeat prescriptions, and that this would be “better for the NHS”.

In its ruling, the ASA acknowledged that Pharmacy2U could save the NHS money, but ordered the online pharmacy not to repeat the advertisements in their current form. Instead, Pharmacy2U should provide “adequate substantiation” for the claims.

After being approached by The Pharmaceutical Journal regarding the promotional feature, a spokesperson from the ASA said that Pharmacy2U paid for, and had editorial control over, the Wired article; therefore, it would consider it a form of advertising.

They added that the ASA would need to look into the claim further to establish if it was, in fact, covered by its remit: “If it is, then the claim … could potentially run contrary to our recent ruling. Our complaints and investigations teams … will follow this up with the advertiser if they consider there are grounds to do so.”

A spokesperson from Pharmacy2U said that since the initial ruling in July 2018, it had been working with the ASA to agree a way of presenting the saving, and admitted that the Wired article should be amended to reflect these discussions.

The ASA’s sister organisation, the Committee of Advertising Practice, who writes the advertising codes administered by the ASA, provides free confidential advice to advertisers on how to adhere to the rules. 

A spokesperson for Pharmacy2U said: “We will work with the ASA to amend the presentation of the cost saving, but the essence of the advertising — that online management of medicines could be better for patients and the NHS — remains.

“Online technology has transformed industries from retail to leisure and it is now making a significant and much-needed mark on healthcare, improving patient access to their medicines and helping ease the strain on the NHS.”

Pharmacy2U is the largest online pharmacy in UK and was set up by a team of pharmacists in 1999.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20205366

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