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Medicines substitutions in supermarket home deliveries put customers at risk, RPS warns

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has called on retailers to ensure that only like-for-like substitutions of medicines can take place as part of home deliveries.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in the number of home deliveries from supermarkets

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has warned that substituting medicines in supermarket home deliveries could put customers at risk.

The Society has expressed its concerns in a letter to the British Retail Consortium — the national trade association for UK retailers. It said that some over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol have been substituted with other medicines, if the medicine ordered was out of stock.

These substitutions have occasionally, it said, contained different or additional ingredients to those originally ordered. The RPS added that without “clear and explicit messaging” to explain this to customers, some substitutions could cause a serious risk to health, “especially amongst those who cannot tolerate or may be allergic to a specific ingredient”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in the number of home deliveries from supermarkets. Results of a survey from Alvarez & Marsal and Retail Economics, published in June 2020, found that 34% of UK respondents said they expected to make greater use of online shopping over the long term as a consequence of the pandemic. 

Sandra Gidley, president of the RPS, said it was “vital that robust safety procedures for the sale of over the counter medicines are in place”.

Gidley added that the Society is “calling on all retailers to review their processes and staff training to ensure that only like-for-like substitutions of medicines can take place as part of home deliveries”.

“Not taking action leaves patients facing a ticking time-bomb of a dangerous or potentially fatal adverse reaction to a substituted medication,” she said. ”Retailers must address this as a matter of urgency.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208444

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