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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 268 No 7195 p568-572
27 April 2002

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Letters to the Editor

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Number plate recommendation well founded

From Mr S. Whitaker, MRPharmS, and Mr R. I. Hughes, MRPharmS

In your article (PJ, 13 April, p487) you report the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's opposition to the "number plate" concept adopted by the Committee on Safety of Medicine's Working Group. The object of the group's recommendations is to make the process of product identification and selection less likely to result in errors that harm patients. The "number plate" recommendation is one of the group's several recommendations that would apply to every, or almost every, pharmaceutical product.

The reasoning behind this particular proposal is obviously not clear to the deputy director general and the commercial director of the ABPI, whose comments are quoted in your report. We should like to both endorse and clarify this reasoning by reference to our own experiences during our efforts to promote better standards of product presentation for pharmaceuticals.

As a result of the initial response to in April 2000, we added an appendix in June 2000 that presented our collected notes and thoughts on those aspects of labelling that might trigger error processes in product identification and selection. These had been stimulated by the discussion among the pharmacist subscribers to Private-Rx ( and drew upon the comments and opinions that we had received, through the site's e-mail, from health practitioners and others. It was by then apparent to us that an international standard was desirable for the format of a portion, or panel, of the label text that identified its contents. A similar standard already exists in countries within the European Union for the miniature, perforated panel that is removed at dispensing, for the purposes of reimbursement.

In that appendix we described the number plate concept thus: "A section of the label that always presents the vital identifying information in the same style and emphasis — that always presents only the essential components of the product's identity. ... The simplest analogy we can produce as an illustration for this prospect is the motor vehicle's registration, or number, plate.

"No matter what colour, shape, style, model or marque of motor vehicle that may be observed its true identity is always revealed by this plate — ask any policeman. It conforms to a standard in its appearance, in its size and even in its position on the vehicle. ... Place such a 'plate' on all pharmaceutical products and our world of pharmacy would certainly be a better, safer place. We would, at last, have a reliable focal point from which to perform a double check on a product's identity — we would have all the essential information grouped in a bold and legible panel."

We believe that the working group's recommendation is well founded. We can no longer tolerate a state of inertia, in which pharmacists and other health professionals make no collective attempt to address the problem of poor label and packaging design. With respect to those presenting the ABPI's opposition — they are not "ward floor" health professionals handling the industry's products every day. They should be welcoming to this opportunity for the United Kingdom to set a new standard for product safety that might very likely become accepted beyond Europe.

Simon Whitaker
Bicester, Oxfordshire

Idris Hughes
Trefriw, Gwynedd


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