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The “dispensing test” from the early 1960s

On reading the News item regarding unannounced inspections by the General Pharmaceutical Council (PJ, 2014;292:187), I recalled the times in the early 1960s when unannounced visits by the pharmacy inspector were commonplace.

This took the form of a “dispensing test” whereby an agent of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain visited the local GP and requested a “false prescription” to be presented to the pharmacy.

The prescription was taken and handed in at the pharmacy for dispensing. (Many were for mixtures eg, “Mist Ferri Sulph,” that had to be prepared on the spot, the ingredients having to be calculated, weighed and measured — no mls and grams in those days, it was grains and minims.)

The resultant mixture was handed out to the waiting customer who then produced evidence to say he was an inspector. (Blood drained from the pharmacist’s face.)

He then said he would not leave the premises but call in his “accomplice” who was lurking outside the shop.

The dispensed medicine was then divided into three bottles, each of which was sealed with sealing wax produced by the inspector along with matches and a taper.

One of these was left with the pharmacist (for independent analysis if needed) and the others taken for analysis by the inspector.

After some weeks a letter was received to state all was correct. (I never had one saying otherwise.)

Over time the system changed and the pharmacy was told in advance of an impending visit, when the inspector picked up a pre-dispensed prescription awaiting collection. Most pharmacists would have a carefully dispensed prescription waiting, hoping he would pick that one up for testing.

Today’s inspections are concerned with pharmacy standards and professionalism, a much more appropriate way than those of the 1960s.

Stanley Hirst


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11135453

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