Asda has tightened up the requirements for its scheme allowing access to salbutamol inhalers without a prescription after experts raised concerns that GPs were not being automatically informed when patients accessed the scheme.
The supermarket has also cut the number inhalers available down from two every eight weeks when the scheme began, to one, after a group of pharmacists advising the supermarket chain said one without a GP prescription was enough.
Under the ‘fine-tuning’ of the pharmacy access scheme, customers buying an inhaler will fill in a form to give their GP’s details, and the Asda pharmacies will send GPs letters when an inhaler is purchased as a matter of routine.
Customers who refuse to fill out the form will not be allowed to buy an inhaler, the supermarket confirmed.
When the scheme began in June GP leaders voiced concerns that making inhaled beta-agonists more readily available could mean patients neglect use of inhaled steroids, and that asthma and COPD patients shouldn’t bypass a GP consultation.
It comes after the Department of Health sought talks with the National Pharmacy Association after it decided to roll out a pilot scheme giving customers access to 16 medicines without a prescription, including salbutamol inhalers, trimethoprim and sildenafil.
Asda said it had amended its patient group direction (PGD) allowing pharmacies in its stores to sell salbutamol inhalers without a GP prescription, after concerns were raised by GPs and pharmacists.
John Evans, superintendent pharmacist at Asda said he was approached by GPs and asthma nurses who voiced concerns about practices not being informed and the number of inhalers available, and his team of advisors developed the amendments.
He said: ‘We met with a group of advisory pharmacists and they said that if the customers didn’t tell the GP, then the GP wouldn’t know what was happening.’
He added: ‘At Asda we have tried to be innovative, and have fine-tuned the scheme. We will do so again if there is a need, we want to get this right. We can’t be sure the patient gives us the correct details for their GP, but this PGD is still much tighter than others. The pharmacists also always counsels the patient on use of preventers and goes through inhaler technique to encourage good practice.’
Dr Rupert Jones, head of the respiratory research unit at Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth and a GPSI in COPD in Plymouth, said he was pleased with the improvements but ultimately he did not agree salbutamol inhalers should be sold over the counter.
He said: ‘The amendments are a step in the right direction, and the scheme is better than it was. But there are still concerns.
‘If there are people using these inhalers all the time and having symptoms and GPs don’t know about them, they can’t keep of control and compliance. So there’s a risk of uncontrolled asthma. We can’t give necessary treatment like prophylactic treatment. We would prefer if salbutamol inhalers were only provided in exceptional circumstances.’