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Inspections over time

I was interested to read of the debate about unannounced inspections of pharmacies (PJ 2014;292:187). It reminded me that, until the 1990s, all inspections were unannounced. The Council of the day then decided that some visits by inspectors should be notified in advance. There was to be no question of giving a specific date. The inspector would indicate that visits would be made to the area in which the pharmacy was situated “in a week or so”. The change was controversial at the time. It was intended to help inspectors plan their programme of visits more efficiently. It was emphasised that some unannounced visits would continue.

I recall that when I was appointed secretary of the Doncaster Local Pharmaceutical Committee in 1959, I found that a system was in place to ensure that soon after an inspector arrived at one pharmacy, others were made aware of a possible visit. Thus, perhaps in practice only the first call at a pharmacy in an area was really unannounced.

Mr Hirst’s letter about test prescriptions (PJ, 8 March 2014, p262) also jogged my memory. An inspector acted as an agent for the local NHS administrative body in overseeing the production of three equal portions from the product dispensed against a test prescription. As Mr Hirst said, these were mostly for preparations that had to be dispensed extemporaneously. It was difficult to produce three equal portions of an eight fluid ounce mixture that contained heavy, insoluble powders.

When I joined the staff of the National Pharmaceutical Union (as it then was), which provided a service to help members with test prescriptions, I found that in the great majority of cases, when all three portions had been analysed, it was confirmed that the prescription had been dispensed accurately.

Of course, the Society’s inspectors did much more than dealing with test prescriptions when visiting pharmacies. Private prescription books were checked against prescriptions retained and Controlled Drug registers were balanced against stocks held, purchased and dispensed. Advice was also given on the appearance and organisation of the pharmacy when needed.

There was a focus on pharmacy standards after the Medicines Act 1968 came into force, although, unfortunately, the large multiples opposed the making of regulations on pharmacy standards, under the Act.

If I recall correctly, the reason was concern that the Society would seek to use such regulations to overcome the decisions of the House of Lords in the Dickson case. Arising from a recommendation in the Report on the General Practice of Pharmacy, the Council had to put a motion to the annual general meeting of the Society in 1965 to the effect that new pharmacies should be situated only in premises that were physically distinct and should be devoted solely to professional and non-professional services as defined plus such other services as may be approved by the Council. The motion was carried at a special general meeting held at the Royal Albert Hall by 5,020 votes to 1,336. Can one imagine such a turnout for a meeting of pharmacists today?

In brief the Courts decided that it was not within the power of the Society to carry out the provision of the motion because the proposed restrictions were “on restraint of trade”.

John Ferguson

Former Secretary and Registrar of the RPSGB

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11136844

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